The North African region is a “hotspot”

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Experts have been pointing out for years that the North African region is a “hotspot”, and that the risks associated with temperatures already above the global average, would be higher (1.5 degrees by 2035, with the possibility, without a radical policy change, of reaching 2.2 degrees in 2050).

Rainfall is expected to decrease and temperature to rise, which will have a direct impact on water resource capacities.  Climate models show that these trends will strengthen over the future years.

As the agricultural sector is the main consumer of this resource, agricultural production – and therefore the supply to consumers – will be directly affected.

Agricultural lands are largely located in the arid and semi-arid area, representing 85% of the total land area (excluding the Sahara), and will now be increasingly subject to frequent droughts and climatic accidents.

This diagnosis, widely shared by the National Climate Plan (PNC) adopted by the authorities in 2018, has not been followed up, and the climate change adaptation measures adopted by the PNC are far from being implemented.

A major challenge, therefore, arises in a country where the orientation given to policies is aimed at a further intensification of the modes of exploitation of natural resources: how in these conditions to increase agricultural production while preserving natural resources strongly threatened in the future by ongoing climate change?

Secondly, there is the economic shock caused by the rise in world prices for basic agricultural products, which are very heavily consumed by the population (cereals, milk, edible oils, and sugar).

The market crisis and the rises in commodity prices in the spring of 2020 were accentuated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began on 24 February 2022.

Soft wheat prices, which hovered around $200 per tonne in the years 2011-2012, reached amounts that are around $290 per tonne in the last quarter of 2021.

The health crisis was a trigger for this market crisis and this with, on the one hand, the consequence and the weight exerted by imports from China – which became the world’s leading importer of agricultural and agri-food products during 2020/2021 season – and on the other hand, the rise in transport prices combined with temporary export restrictions implemented in several exporting countries (Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Argentina, India…).

Since the beginning of the war, soft wheat has increased by 50% to $450 per tonne. World prices for vegetable oils increased by 23%, sugar by 7%, and meat by 5%.

Algeria will thus buy at the end of February 2022, 600,000 tons of milling wheat, of French origin at $ 485 per ton (cost and fees) to load March-April 2022.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of soft wheat, will acquire 240,000 tons of French soft wheat for loading at the end of May, at $492.25 per tonne.

The featured image is of Workers harvesting wheat in a field on the outskirts of Berouaguia, southwest of Algiers. (Reuters)

Read the original article in French.

As it bakes, Egypt looks to the cooling power of the sea for help

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Photo: Shutterstock/Octasy
As Egypt bakes, it looks to the cooling power of the sea for help now that technological advances would allow it . . .

As anyone who visits Egypt between the months of May to September can attest, the weather gets hot, often uncomfortably so.

That is especially true in Cairo—a megacity home to nearly 22 million people—where the mercury can hit 40°C. Those sky-high temperatures are partially a product of the so-called ‘heat island effect,’ which sees buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s warmth more than natural landscapes.

Research shows that things will only get worse for cities due to the climate crisis. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that by the year 2100, many cities across the world could warm as much as 4°C if greenhouse gas emissions continue “at high levels,” – a potential health hazard for inhabitants.

With millions of people in need of air conditioning, it’s no surprise that so much of the power consumption in Cairo is related to cooling. “During the peak summer months, 50 per cent of the electric power goes to air conditioning,” said Alaa Olama, a UNEP consultant, the Head of the Egyptian District Cooling Code and the author of the book District Cooling: Theory and Practice.

Egypt is currently building 22 ‘smart cities’, making the country an ideal location for state-of-the-art cooling technologies, said Olama. Many of those efforts have focused on developing city-wide cooling systems that do not rely on electricity from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

This is particularly important in the fight against climate change because cities contribute greatly to global warming. Rising global temperatures and warming cities create a vicious cycle where increased demand for cooling systems adds to carbon dioxide emissions that further contribute to global warming and create the need for even more cooling.

According to the International Energy Agency, cooling produces more than 7 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions are expected to roughly double by 2050. Amidst rising temperatures, the number of air conditioners in use is expected to rise to 4.5 billion by 2050 from 1.2 billion today.

To help break this cycle, UNEP is working with governments to adopt more climate-friendly cooling practices. For example, UNEP recently concluded a feasibility study on a district cooling system called the Seawater Air-conditioning system for New Alamein City, on the north coast of the country.

Here is how the Seawater Air-conditioning system works: Coldwater taken from deep in the Mediterranean Sea is pumped into a cooling station and passed through a heat exchanger, where it absorbs heat from buildings. Cool air generated from the cold water is used to maintain comfortable temperatures in the buildings, while the warm water is sent back into the sea.

Initially, the project would consist of a single district cooling plant to be built over two years, with 30,000 Tones of Refrigeration (TR) capacity, sufficient to cool entire neighborhoods. The Seawater Air-conditioning system is estimated to cost US$117 million in building production facilities and a further US$20-25 million for the distribution network.

With this cooling system, the city would reduce refrigerants emissions by 99 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent. This is particularly important because these reductions will help Egypt meet its requirements to phase-down hydrofluorocarbon emissions established by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This landmark multilateral environmental agreement regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals called ozone-depleting substances.

Since many ozone-depleting substances also contribute to global warming, the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment – which provides for phasing down harmful greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation – is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by the end of this century. This represents a major step in the commitment to limit global warming to below 2°C under the Paris Agreement.

The feasibility study to assess the potential for district cooling in New Alamein City will be published in late May 2022. It is expected to analyze whether it would be financially and technically viable to build a district cooling solution that would reduce or avoid using hydrofluorocarbons.

The study was initiated through the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, and UNEP supported the development of an institutional framework. The efforts are being elevated through UNEP District Energy in Cities Initiative, which is taking the study to the level of execution.

UNEP’s support for the study is part of a larger effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come with cooling.

In Egypt, UNEP’s OzonAction team is also supporting the development, update, enactment and enforcement of specialized nation-wide codes for ACs, district cooling and refrigerant management, as well as green procurement processes.

The UNEP-led Cool Coalition is helping cities in India, Viet Nam and Cambodia develop environmentally-friendly cooling strategies. It is also supporting the construction of networks of freezers, known as cold chains, that can hold everything from farm produce to COVID-19 vaccines.

The concept of using cold water to provide cooling for cities has taken root globally. For instance, in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, the local government implemented the largest lake-source cooling system in the world. Commissioned in 2004, Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling system uses cold lake water as a renewable energy source. Similar large-scale projects have also been built in the United States and France.

This technology, which was pioneered in the West, has in recent years become popular in the East in the Gulf and Emirate States, which boast the greatest number of district cooling technologies. “It’s an important solution for new cities,” said Olama.

 

Hosted by Sweden, the theme of World Environment Day on 5 June 2022 is #OnlyOneEarth – with a focus on ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony With Nature’. Follow #OnlyOneEarth on social media and take transformative, global action, because protecting and restoring this planet is a global responsibility. 

Follow the World Environment Day live feed for updates.

UNEP is at the forefront of supporting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution, a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are: Energy; Industry; Agriculture & Food; Forests & Land Use; Transport; and Buildings & Cities.

 

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

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Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change as generally witnessed and felt by all after the country’s latest parliamentary elections. 

Lebanese election sees significant gains for independent non-sectarian politicians

By John Nagle, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Aalborg University

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.

Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.

Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.

The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.

In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.

Opposition gains have been secured even in areas traditionally seen as Hezbollah strongholds. In 2018, Hezbollah and its allies won 71 seats, making it the biggest faction in the parliament. Hezbollah emerged from Sunday’s election weakened as many voters blame the party for hindering an independent investigation into the Beirut port explosion which killed more than 200 people.

This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.

Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy

Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.

Critics point to a number of drawbacks with the system. Some Lebanese people are reliant on their sect leaders to distribute basic services, such as healthcare. Lebanon is further crippled by paralysis and dysfunction, with the government rarely passing any new laws.

Yet, despite many barriers to change, we may be beginning to see cracks in the system to allow anti-sectarian and independent opposition candidates to emerge as a serious force in Lebanon.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have voiced dissent by taking to the streets to demand an end to the state’s corrupt leaders, branded by protesters as “thieves”.

While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.

While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.

Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.

This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.

Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.

Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.

Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.

Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.

John Nagle, Professor in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Associate Professor of Political Science, Aalborg University

Read the original article.

Climate change affects all countries

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Climate change affects all countries, especially those with high agricultural production and equally those with lower production.  The ingenuity of the producers of the first countries could not oppose any remedy to this phenomenon.  Without wanting to be disillusioned because of this, everyone knows that only a global movement of all the world’s populations could turn this upside down or the other way around.

So, the question would be how to proceed to ensure that the people of the world act the same and at the same time, for a fairly long period.  For many specialists, this period would be forever.

The United Nations has already been working on this with its sustainable development agenda with a program based on 17 clearly defined goals.

These goals would be to transform our world from sustainable development through the action of all countries – poor, rich, and middle-income – to protect the planet while promoting prosperity.

They recognize that ending poverty must go hand in hand with strategies that develop economic growth and address a range of social needs, including education, health, social protection, and employment opportunities while addressing climate change and environmental protection.

The problem is that the planet does not expect its inhabitants to start from a common agreement to push in the same direction.

More virulent phenomena such as desertification, and scarcity of groundwater that mainly due to reductions in precipitation in all climatic areas of the globe.  Paradoxically, there is the fact that seawater levels tend to rise above their normal level as known in recent centuries.

Apart from what is said above, there is a much greater impact.  This is kept away from direct attention.

It is the one that affects those important agricultural producing countries that with this global warming would tend to lose their level of production at the expense of those other countries whose lands froze for centuries and who would see them suddenly turn into arable land.  Conversely, countries whose subsistence production enabled these to go through millennia might be likely to face up to survival of the fittest span of time.

Are we being on the verge of yet another phenomenon consequent from climate change?  It would be that of a new swing in the hierarchy of food producers of the world? The question that has not been asked so far still deserves attention.  That of each and every one.

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

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On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

The above-featured image is that of Damascus by France 24.

The Syrian architect and writer on the idea of home in Branagh’s Belfast, smart Arab horses in Homs and the joy of lentils in Damascus

Marwa al-Sabouni

Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect and writer. Born in Homs in 1981, she was living in the city when the civil war broke out in 2011 and remained there with her young family throughout the worst bombardments. In her memoir The Battle for Home, published in 2016, al-Sabouni wrote about the vital role that architecture plays in the functioning of society and how Syria’s future could be shaped by its built environment. In 2021, she published a second book, Building for Hope: Towards an Architecture of Belonging. Al-Sabouni is guest co-director of this year’s Brighton festival, which runs until 29 May.

1. Film

Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)

From left: Caitriona Balfe, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie and Jamie Dornan in Belfast. Photograph: Rob Youngson/Focus Features

 

 

I watched this at home recently – there are no cinemas in Homs. It’s a film about war and love and friendship, about difficult decisions in a time of crisis. I liked the story and how real the actors made it, but also the way it handled the theme of home, which I very much related to – how the family was torn between staying and leaving. The whole dilemma of what to do, and how different people deal with similar questions and end up with different answers, was explored so well. It’s a great movie.

 

2. Novel

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a story set in a fictional version of England many centuries ago. It’s about grudges, and Ishiguro writes about this without naming the feeling, creating a fictional creature – the buried giant – for it as a reference. It’s also about a family’s journey to discover this feeling, and to find a way towards forgiveness. What I loved about this story is the indirect and imaginative way it has of dealing with hidden feelings that we bury deep down in our psyche, and how to access them.

3. Sport

Homs Equestrian Club

Marwa al-Sabouni’s horse Salah al-Din, a Syrian Arab.

I don’t go out much to busy places, and because of the war we don’t have many places to go. But I do go and ride every day at the equestrian club in Homs. My horse is called Salah al-Din. He’s a very strong horse from a special breed – Syrian Arab horses are among the best in the world for strength, endurance and performance. They are really smart animals and very independent and spirited, which is a humbling experience on a daily basis. The social aspect of the club is disastrous; it’s all about the horses.

4. TV

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Dominique Fishback and Samuel L Jackson in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Photograph: TCD/DB/Alamy

Samuel L Jackson gives a phenomenal performance in this TV series. He plays an old man suffering from dementia who takes an experimental medicine that gains him a few days of lucidity. He uses those precious moments to access his memories and explain to himself the nightmares he had, which are related to racism. The show deals with different questions with great sensitivity, and in the end it’s about true friendship and genuine feelings. For me, it’s the story of the human mind and how precious this gift is.

5. Music

Georges Wassouf

Watch a video for Georges Wassouf’s Ya Al Zaman.

Georges Wassouf is from a rural area near Homs, but his career took off from Beirut. I just love his music – he has a poignant way of speaking about love and a fantastic way of bending the lyrics to express the music. It’s also lovely how his artistic character is so closely related to his real-life character. He’s a very accessible figure who lives among his people, and he didn’t change his lifestyle in a way that would separate him from his own small village. Ahla Ayam El Omr, which translates as Life’s Most Beautiful Days, is one of my favourite of his songs.

6. Restaurant

Naranj, Damascus

Naranj restaurant in Damascus. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

Homs restaurants are rubbish, but there are plenty of good ones in Damascus. The one that I really like is Naranj, in the old part of the city where the Muslim and the Christian quarters merge. The food is great and the menu is very much based on what’s in season. The breads come right out of the oven, hot and delicious, and I would recommend the lentil dish harrak isbao, which means “the one that burns your fingers” because it’s so delicious that you will dive straight in.

The Guardian