How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

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The Dumat Al Jandal Wind Farm in Jouf province, the first and largest of its kind in Saudi Arabia, became operation in 2022, with 99 turbines producing 400 MW of electricity. (Photo courtesy: Vision2030)
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The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE leveraging renewables and environmental policies to protect future growth and prosperity
  • Without action now, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity

RIYADH/DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crossroads. As temperatures rise, water scarcity intensifies and desertification spreads, the region’s immense economic potential is at risk unless bold action is taken.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have been taking steps to adopt sources of renewable energy, not only to meet their own commitments to slashing carbon emissions, but to take a lead in the global energy transition.




The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)

This adoption of renewables has come hand in hand with a broader regional push to diversify economies away from oil, invest in carbon capture, storage and utilization, and roll out policies designed to protect natural habitats and expand green spaces.

There is a lot at stake for the MENA region, which is viewed as being uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Indeed, several studies suggest parts of the region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity.

In November and December last year, Dubai hosted the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at which states agreed to a historic set of measures to stop average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.




People walk outside Expo City in Dubai on December 12, 2023 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28. (AFP)

The agreement called for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner ... so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

It also called for the creation of a fund to help vulnerable countries pay for climate-related damage, and the publication of landmark assessments on the world’s progress in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, it called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, the speeding up of efforts to reduce coal use, and the adoption of technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization.

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Although not all nations were satisfied with the text of the deal, it did mark an important step forward, building on the ambitions laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Paris headquarters of the International Energy Agency on Feb. 20, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber said that meeting the goals agreed under the “UAE Consensus” would require “unprecedented action” by global stakeholders.

“Solidarity overcame polarization, inclusivity prevailed over finger-pointing and the spirit of partnership brought the best of humanity together,” he said of the COP28 summit.

“To keep this spirit alive and build on the momentum achieved at COP28, the UAE Consensus set a new direction and a clear course correction. We must now turn an unprecedented agreement into unprecedented action. Now is the time for all stakeholders to step up.”




COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber is seen on a screen as he speaks during a high-level round table on COP energy and climate commitments organized by the International Energy Agency at its headquarters in Paris on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

While many Western nations appear to be rolling back their climate commitments, the Middle East and North Africa region has risen to the challenge.

One bold example of this is the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 to protect the Kingdom’s environment, conserve wildlife, and plant billions of trees, while enabling sustainable economic growth.

 

 

“Since its inception, SGI has implemented a range of initiatives to protect and conserve the Kingdom’s vital ecosystems,” Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, told Arab News.




Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha

“For example, the National Greening Program, which is driving nationwide tree-planting efforts across Saudi Arabia and is underpinned by two key guiding principles: firstly, maintaining ecosystem balance, and secondly, utilizing renewable water resources.

“The program follows a nature-based regeneration approach to allow its ecosystems to flourish over time.”

Faqeeha said several dedicated initiatives under the SGI are being actioned to protect biodiversity hotspots through the designation of protected areas.

“SGI also aims to promote sustainability by raising awareness and reducing the adverse impact of economic sectors on the ecosystems, driving all these efforts by engaging all relevant stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors,” he said.




Saudi Arabia's National Greening Program has been in full swing since 2021. (SPA)

Other significant steps the Kingdom has taken to safeguard biodiversity include the establishment of a dedicated national environmental framework, underpinned by the National Environment Law.

Several agencies have been established to carry out this work, including the National Center for Wildlife, National Center for Vegetation Cover, National Center for Environmental Compliance, and the National Center for Waste Management.

Under his ministry’s oversight, Faqeeha said these agencies “regulate and monitor critical environmental domains linked to biodiversity conservation, such as terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems, land and vegetation cover, environmental media, waste management, (and) underscore the commitment to biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom.”

The picture is similar in the UAE. Under the General Environment Policy of 2021, authorities are working to preserve ecosystems, promote diversification and economic prosperity, integrate climate change and biodiversity considerations into various sectors, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.




Keeping its marine waters constantly clean is part the UAE's sustainability goals. (Supplied)

All these plans are crucial if countries in the Middle East and North Africa region hope to address the effects of climate change, which are already impacting precipitation patterns, causing water scarcity and harming agriculture, thereby threatening livelihoods and food security.

In the Gulf states, in particular, climate change is already contributing to an increase in the salinity of groundwater. According to a report by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Gulf water supplies will come under additional strain over the next 20 years due to the region’s booming population and the scarcity of rainfall.

Officials in these countries believe it is therefore critical to plan now in order to mitigate and adapt to these challenges if they are to protect future growth and prosperity.

 


Sudan military downs drones targeting its HQ in Shendi, say army sources

Updated 23 April 2024
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Sudan military downs drones targeting its HQ in Shendi, say army sources

  • None of the drones hit their target, the army sources said
  • Sudan’s army is battling the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces for control of the vast north African country

CAIRO: Sudan’s army used anti-aircraft missiles on Tuesday to shoot down drones targeting its headquarters in the city of Shendi, witnesses and army sources said, the latest in a series of such drone attacks.
None of the drones hit their target, the army sources said. Reuters could not independently verify the report.
The head of Sudan’s army, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, arrived on Monday in Shendi, which is some 180 km (112 miles) north of the capital Khartoum, army media reported earlier. It was not immediately clear whether he remains in the area.
Sudan’s army is battling the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for control of the vast north African country.
Tuesday’s drone attack is the third targeting areas that remain solidly under army control. The city of Atbara, also in River Nile state, and Al-Gedaref state to the east have also come under drone attack.
Both the army and the RSF have used drones in the conflict, which erupted a year ago.
The RSF, which controls much of Khartoum and western regions of the country, has not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.
Shendi residents said the attacks have created panic in the town.
The war between the army and RSF has sparked warnings of famine, displaced millions, killed thousands in the crossfire and given way to ethnic killings by the RSF and allied militias.
The war appears likely to spread to the city of Al-Fashir, the army’s final holdout in the Darfur region, with many warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.


Iran threatens to annihilate Israel should it launch a major attack

Updated 20 min 21 sec ago
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Iran threatens to annihilate Israel should it launch a major attack

  • Raisi began a three day visit to Pakistan on Monday
  • "The Islamic Republic of Iran will honourably continue to support the Palestinian resistance," Raisi added

DUBAI: An Israeli attack on Iranian territory could radically change dynamics and result in there being nothing left of the "Zionist regime", Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the official IRNA news agency.
Raisi began a three day visit to Pakistan on Monday and has vowed to boost trade between the neighbouring nations to $10 billion a year.
The two Muslim neighbours are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.
On Friday, explosions were heard over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation.
Iran launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel on April 13 in what it said was retaliation for Israel's suspected deadly strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, but almost all were shot down.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will honourably continue to support the Palestinian resistance," Raisi added in the speech in Lahore.


Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

Updated 23 April 2024
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Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

  • Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city

CAIRO/DUBAI: Attacks around the Sudanese city of Al-Fashir have shattered a truce that protected it from a year-old war, leading to warnings of a new wave of inter-communal violence and humanitarian risks for 1.6 million residents crammed into the North Darfur capital.
Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF and its allies swept through four other Darfur state capitals last year, and were blamed for a campaign of ethnically driven killings against non-Arab groups and other abuses in West Darfur.
The fight for Al-Fashir, a historic center of power, could be more protracted, inflame ethnic tensions that surfaced in the early-2000s conflict in the region and reach across Sudan’s border with Chad, say residents, aid agencies and analysts.
Al-Fashir’s population includes an estimated half a million people displaced during that earlier conflict, when the army, assisted by Arab militias that evolved into the RSF, put down a rebellion by non-Arab rebel groups.
About half a million more people moved into the city during the war that broke out between the army and the RSF in the capital Khartoum in April 2023, as long-simmering tensions over integrating the two forces came to a head.
As the war spread to other parts of the country, local leaders brokered a truce in Al-Fashir, with the RSF confined to eastern areas of the city while the former rebel groups stayed neutral.
But the arrangement fell apart after the RSF took the town of Melit this month, effectively blockading Al-Fashir.
Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city, unlike in other state capitals where soldiers quickly fled.
Two prominent former rebel groups, Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Jibril Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement, said they would also defend against the RSF.
Many non-Arabs in Al-Fashir are gripped with fear.
“We don’t know what to do,” 39-year-old resident Mohamed Gasim told Reuters by phone. “Al-Fashir is dangerous, but leaving is more dangerous.”
VILLAGES RAZED
Even before the truce collapsed, occasional skirmishes killed more than 220 people in Al-Fashir in the last year, according to Ismail Khareef, an activist in Abu Shouk, one of the displacement camps that dot the city.
Clashes on April 16 left at least 18 dead, Khareef said. Gunfire and projectiles, including from army warplanes, have fallen on homes, he and other residents say.
Since the start of the month, at least 11 villages on Al-Fashir’s outskirts have been razed, according to satellite imagery obtained by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. At least 36,000 have been displaced, the United Nations estimates.
Local activists and an SLA spokesperson blamed the RSF and allied militias, who have been known to use arson in past attacks, including in West Darfur. The activists said that survivors of the attacks reported around 10 people killed and that the attackers used ethnic insults.
The RSF denied attacking Al-Fashir and said it was careful to keep clashes away from civilians in the city, accusing the army and allied groups of attacking it on the outskirts. The RSF has previously denied responsibility for ethnic violence in Darfur.
The army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Al-Fashir itself has not had functioning running water or power lines for a year, said Awadalla Hamid, Darfur director for Practical Action, speaking to Reuters from the city, where few international humanitarians remain. Only one public hospital is functioning, while displaced people are crammed into schools and public buildings, he said.
Jerome Tubiana, an expert on Darfur and adviser to medical charity MSF, said all-out fighting “risks already complicating further humanitarian access, at a time where available data shows Al-Fashir is suffering of an extremely serious food crisis.”
SPILLOVER RISK
Since the war began, only small quantities of aid have entered Al-Fashir, the only army-approved conduit for shipments to other parts of Darfur. Residents say that though markets are functioning, the RSF’s control of the main road has caused prices for fuel, water and other goods to soar.
Recent tensions and violence around Al-Fashir have also raised concerns about a wider spillover.
The former rebel groups fighting alongside the army hail from the Zaghawa tribe, which reaches across the border into Chad, counting Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby as a member.
Arab and non-Arab tribes like the Zaghawa have long clashed over land and valuable resources in Darfur, analysts say.
Complicating matters is the entrance of the forces belonging to Musa Hilal, a leading Arab commander from the early 2000s and rival of RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, despite hailing from the same tribe. A spokesperson confirmed a video of Hilal addressing forces in North Darfur on Monday, but said that it was too soon to say if the forces would join the fight in Al-Fashir or elsewhere.
“Even if there was a ceasefire between SAF and RSF this is way beyond them. There are scores being settled and tensions being renewed,” said Jonas Horner, an independent Sudan analyst.


Tunisian coast guard retrieves bodies of 19 migrants

Updated 23 April 2024
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Tunisian coast guard retrieves bodies of 19 migrants

TUNIS, April 23 : The Tunisian coast guard has retrieved the bodies of 19 migrants who were trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, the national guard said on Tuesday.
The latest incident took the number of migrant deaths off the Tunisian coast to nearly 200 in first four months of this year.


Israeli military rejects allegations of burying Palestinians in mass graves at Gaza hospital

Updated 23 April 2024
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Israeli military rejects allegations of burying Palestinians in mass graves at Gaza hospital

  • The military said corpses already buried at Nasser hospital were examined as part of search for hostages
  • UN calls for international probe into deaths at Gaza hospitals

GENEVA: Israeli military on Tuesday rejected allegations that its forces buried Palestinians in mass graves at a Gaza hospital, after the United Nations called for international investigation into the deaths during Israeli sieges, saying war crimes may have been committed.

In a statement, the military said corpses already buried at Nasser hospital were examined as part of search for hostages.
The UN rights office said it was “horrified” by the destruction of Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, and its second largest, the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis.

It called for an international investigation into reports of mass graves at the two Gaza hospitals destroyed in Israeli sieges.
On Monday, the Palestinian territory’s Civil Defense agency said health workers had uncovered more than 200 bodies of people killed and buried at Nasser hospital, which was besieged by Israeli troops last month.
In early April the World Health Organization said Al-Shifa had been destroyed by an Israeli siege, leaving an “empty shell” containing many bodies.
The UN rights office on Tuesday demanded “independent, effective and transparent investigations into the deaths.”
“Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators,” UN rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement.
Hospitals, which are protected under international law, have repeatedly come under Israeli bombardment over more than six months of war in Gaza.
Israel has accused Palestinian militant group Hamas of using Gazan medical facilities as command centers and to hold hostages abducted during its attack inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has denied those claims.
International law violations
“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law,” Turk pointed out.
“And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime.”
The UN rights office said it did not have access to independent information as to what had transpired at the two hospitals.
But spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said efforts were under way to corroborate reports and details given by Gaza authorities.
The latter say 283 bodies were recovered from Nasser hospital, including 42 that had been identified.
“Victims had reportedly been buried deep in the ground and covered with waste,” she told reporters in Geneva.
Older people, women and wounded were reportedly among the dead, she said.
Others were allegedly “found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”
As for Al-Shifa, the Israeli army has said around 200 Palestinians were killed during its military operation at the hospital
Shamdasani pointed to reports indicating that this toll “may be an underestimate.”
Around 30 bodies were reported found buried in two graves in the courtyard of Al-Shifa hospital.
“And there are reports that the hands of some of these bodies were also tied,” Shamdasani said.
So far, she said, the UN “can’t corroborate the exact figures” of people killed at the two hospitals, underlining: “This is why we are stressing the need for international investigations.”
“Clearly there have been multiple bodies discovered,” she said.
The reports that some had their hands tied indicated “serious violations” of international law, she added.
“These need to be subjected to further investigation... They can’t just be more reports in this horrific war that just pass under the radar.”