As a highlight of its program area Ecology and Environmental Justice, the Heinrich Böll Foundation through its offices in Tunis and Lebanon has supported the creation of the first Arab Youth Climate Movement in the region.
As climate change has found its way onto the agendas of many regimes in the world, it is obvious that there is growing concern over climatic changes, whether pertaining to a wet scenario or a dry one. Nevertheless, the regimes in the Arab world are probably the least occupied with such concerns.
Whether climate change is a topic of concern for the Arab governments or not, the reality is that climate change is an alert for the world. It is an alert about the environment as well as about democratization of the environmental decision-making process, which encompasses environment and climate sensitivity as an integral part of local and international policy-making processes. The Arab world has witnessed uprisings from its youth, who are demanding more democratic governance systems, and particularly social justice, which implies both economic and environmental justice. But those regimes remain unaware of the power of the youth, who can deliver solutions for climate change. The reason behind that is perhaps the ignorance of the Arab regimes to climate change issues.
Having an economy in the Gulf region that is based on harvesting fossil fuels makes talk about curbing carbon emissions a nightmare for that part of the world, especially in the absence of both the technological will to create sustainable energy solutions and a political will for sustainable resource governance.
The underestimated power of youth for climate change
In countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and other North African countries, where huge mitigation and adaptation measures are urgently required, governments prefer to isolate themselves from creating solutions. Instead, they attract donor money to endorse mitigation and adaptation strategies, for example in January 2010 the UNFCCC reported that $854 million in climate finance was directed to the MENA countries. It is not known whether any serious developments have occurred in those countries regarding climate change measures.
The Arab world regimes persistently underestimate the power of the youth in creating solutions for their region. Their participation in decision-making is informal rather than formalized and constructive. Given that, civil society organizations have a larger role to play when it comes to raising the awareness of youth and creating a more climate-sensitive society.
IndyAct – an international NGO based in Lebanon, in partnership with 350.org, GCCA, DEMENA, and CAN – therefore decided to take the initiative that the intergovernmental Arab organizations and governments should have taken long ago. This initiative sought to establish the Arab Youth Climate Movement as a seed for developing a network of climate activists around the region. This comes at a time when the Arab world is hosting the UNFCCC COP 18 climate conference in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012.
The Arab world has almost no climate activists or a formal environmental activist foundation or organization. This is a problem but it also provides an opportunity. More should be done to establish these sorts of organizations and movements to ensure climate and environmental justice.
Obstacles for particpants to join the workshop
The workshop took place at the Wadi Environmental Sciences Center, located some 75 km outside of Cairo and included 20 invitees from many Arab countries. More participants were actually selected out of the original 500, however some could not make it due to political instabilities back home. For example, participants from Syria were not able to access the airport, and those from Gaza received no visa permits to arrive in Cairo. But other participants from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates were able to join.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation supported the activity on all required levels and made it possible for the participants to fly to this workshop in Cairo to discuss the potential of this climate movement prior to COP 18 in Qatar. The five days of activities included sessions on climate activism and networking. The workshop was based on formulating debates and role playing, giving the participants the chance to practice what their dialogues would look like at COP 18 in Qatar. Sessions were given on the impact of social media as a tool for change with regards to climate change in addition to other sessions on the Arab world in international negotiations and where it stands now.
The aim of the workshop was to create a committed group of young climate activists from the Arab world with a critical eye to the political development agenda concerning climate change. It is unfortunate that the Arab countries do not work on creating this capacity in the youth of the Arab world. It is also unfortunate that they are critical of the climate change political arena, leaving their nations in a weak position in the international debate.
The underdeveloped political capacity in the area of climate change will remain the most challenging factor for the Arab world. Another challenging factor is the absence of indigenous financial tools that are specific to the countries of the Arab world and independent from international donors. Those financial tools could come in the form of climate taxes but also as collective investment opportunities in renewable energy and carbon emissions trading. They could also come in the form of energy-efficiency applications and resource-conservation plans.
Those indigenous tools would definitely be more responsive than international ones, given the fact they come from a local understanding of climatic change events. They are also likely to motivate governments and societies to become more climate-responsive and adaptive.