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.

 


Moroccans in pro-Palestinian march rally against Israel ties

Updated 20 May 2024
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Moroccans in pro-Palestinian march rally against Israel ties

  • Rabat has officially denounced what it said were “flagrant violations of the provisions of international law” by Israel in its war against Hamas, but has not given any indication that normalization with Israel would be undone
  • Israel has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

CASABLANCA, Morocco: Thousands of Moroccans demonstrated Sunday in Casablanca in support of the Palestinian people and against ties with Israel, an AFP journalist said, more than seven months into the Gaza war.
Protesters in Morocco’s commercial capital chanted “Freedom for Palestine,” “If we don’t speak out, who will?” and “No to normalization,” and many wore keffiyeh scarves or waved Palestinian flags.
The North African kingdom established diplomatic ties with Israel in late 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords which saw similar moves by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Under the deal, the United States recognized Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Since the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip began on October 7, large-scale demonstrations in Morocco have called for the abrogation of the normalization accord.
On Sunday, the demonstrators marched through central Casablanca in a protest called by a grouping of leftist parties and Islamist movements.
“I cannot remain indifferent and silent in the face of what is happening to the Palestinians who are being killed on a daily basis,” demonstrator Zahra Bensoukar, 43, told AFP.
Idriss Amer, 48, said he was protesting “in solidarity with the Palestinian people, against the Zionist massacre in Gaza and against normalization” of ties with Israel.
Rabat has officially denounced what it said were “flagrant violations of the provisions of international law” by Israel in its war against Hamas, but has not given any indication that normalization with Israel would be undone.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas on October 7 launched an unprecedented attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages on October 7, of whom 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 the Israeli military says are dead.
 

 


What do we know so far about the mysterious crash of the helicopter carrying Iran’s president?

Updated 19 May 2024
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What do we know so far about the mysterious crash of the helicopter carrying Iran’s president?

  • Initially, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the helicopter “was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog”

BEIRUT: The apparent crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s president and foreign minister on Sunday sent shock waves around the region.
Details remained scant in the hours after the incident, and it was unclear if Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the other officials had survived.
Here’s what we know so far.
WHO WAS ON BOARD THE HELICOPTER AND WHERE WERE THEY GOING?
The helicopter was carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Raisi was returning from a trip to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan earlier Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, the news agency said.
WHERE AND HOW DID THE HELICOPTER GO DOWN?
The helicopter apparently crashed or made an emergency landing in the Dizmar forest between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, near its border with Azerbaijan, under circumstances that remain unclear. Initially, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the helicopter “was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.”
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE SEARCH OPERATIONS?
Iranian officials have said the mountainous, forested terrain and heavy fog impeded search-and-rescue operations. The president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, said 40 search teams were on the ground in the area despite “challenging weather conditions.” The search is being done by teams on the ground, as “the weather conditions have made it impossible to conduct aerial searches” via drones, Koulivand said, according to IRNA.
IF RAISI DIED IN THE CRASH, HOW MIGHT THIS IMPACT IRAN?
Raisi is seen as a protégé to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a potential successor for his position within the country’s Shiite theocracy. Under the Iranian constitution, if he died, the country’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would become president. Khamenei has publicly assured Iranians that there would be “no disruption to the operations of the country” as a result of the crash.
WHAT HAS THE INTERNATIONAL REACTION BEEN?
Countries including Russia, Iraq and Qatar have made formal statements of concern about Raisi’s fate and offered to assist in the search operations.
Azerbaijani President Aliyev said he was “deeply concerned” to hear of the incident, and affirmed that Azerbaijan was ready to provide any support necessary. Relations between the two countries have been chilly due to Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, Iran’s regional arch-enemy.
There was no immediate official reaction from Israel. Last month, following an Israeli strike on an Iranian consular building in Damascus that killed two Iranian generals, Tehran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel. They were mostly shot down and tensions have apparently since subsided.

 


EU Red Sea mission says it defended 120 ships from Houthi attacks

Updated 19 May 2024
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EU Red Sea mission says it defended 120 ships from Houthi attacks

  • Human rights activist raps cases of prisoner fatalities as a result of torture in militia’s captivity

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The EU mission in the Red Sea, known as EUNAVFOR Aspides, said on Sunday that it had protected over 100 ships while sailing the critical trade channel and shot down more than a dozen Houthi missiles and drones in the last three months.

In a post on X marking three months since the start of its operation, the EU mission, which is now made up of five naval units and 1,000 personnel from 19 contributing nations, said that its forces had destroyed 12 drones, one drone boat, and four ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis from areas under their control in Yemen, as well as provided protection to 120 commercial ships since February.

“Great day for Freedom of Navigation, as 3 months have passed since the launch of ASPIDES. Three months of multiple challenges and great achievements. ASPIDES continues its mission in full compliance with international law, to ensure maritime security and seaborne trade,” EUNAVFOR Aspides said.

On Feb. 19, the EU announced the commencement of EUNAVFOR Aspides, a military operation in the Red Sea to defend international marine traffic against Houthi attacks.

At the same time, the Philippines Department of Migrant Workers said on Sunday that 23 of its citizens who were aboard the oil ship assaulted by Houthi militia in the Red Sea on Saturday were safe.

“The DMW is closely coordinating with international maritime authorities, shipping companies, and local manning agencies on the status of ships with Filipino seafarers traversing high-risk areas and war-like zones in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” the DMW said in a statement carried by the official Philippine News Agency. 

For seven months, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats against commercial and navy ships along international commerce lanes off Yemen, including the Red Sea.

The Houthis claim that their strikes are intended to push Israel to cease the war in Gaza and allow humanitarian supplies into the Palestinian territory. 

Three civilian sailors, including two Filipinos, were killed in March after the Houthis launched a missile at their ship in the Red Sea.

Many international shipping companies directed their ships to avoid the Red Sea and other passages off Yemen, opting for longer and more costly routes through Africa.

Meanwhile, Yemen human rights activists have said that a man held by the Houthis during the last seven years died as a result of abuse in Houthi imprisonment, making him the latest victim of torture within Houthis detention facilities. 

On Saturday, the Houthis told the family of Najeed Hassan Farea in Taiz through the Yemen Red Crescent that their son had died in their custody, but they did not explain how.

The Houthis abducted Farea in February 2017 after storming his village and home in the Al-Taziya district, preventing him from contacting his family and denying them information about where he was being detained.

Eshraq Al-Maqtari, a human rights activist in Taiz who reached Farea’s family, told Arab News that the Houthis cruelly tortured the man and that his family was stunned to hear of his death after years of information blackout since his detention.

“He was denied the right to communicate, to know his fate, and the right to healthcare, which appears to have caused his death,” she said, adding that since the start of the year, there have been three verified cases of prisoner fatalities as a result of torture in Houthi captivity.


10 years on, thousands forgotten in Syria desert camp

Updated 19 May 2024
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10 years on, thousands forgotten in Syria desert camp

  • Rukban camp was established in 2014 as desperate people fled Daesh and Syrian regime bombardment in hopes of crossing into Jordan

BEIRUT: In a no-man’s land on Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan, thousands are stranded in an isolated camp, unable to return home after fleeing the regime and militants years ago.

When police defector Khaled arrived at Rukban, he had hoped to be back home within weeks — but eight years on, he is still stuck in the remote desert camp, sealed off from the rest of the country.

Damascus rarely lets aid in and neighboring countries have closed their borders to the area, which is protected from Syrian forces by a nearby US-led coalition base’s de-confliction zone.

“We are trapped between three countries,” said Khaled, 50, who only gave his first name due to security concerns.

“We can’t leave for (other areas of) Syria because we are wanted by the regime, and we can’t flee to Jordan or Iraq” because the borders are sealed, he added.

The camp was established in 2014, at the height of Syria’s ongoing war, as desperate people fled Daesh and regime bombardment in hopes of crossing into Jordan.

At its peak, it housed more than 100,000 people, but numbers have dwindled, especially after Jordan largely sealed its side of the border in 2016.

Many people have since returned to regime-held areas to escape hunger, poverty and a lack of medical care. The UN has also facilitated voluntary returns with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The last UN humanitarian convoy reached the camp in 2019, and the body described conditions there as “desperate” at the time.

Today, only about 8,000 residents remain, living in mud-brick houses, with food and basic supplies smuggled in at high prices.

Residents say even those meager supplies risk running dry as regime checkpoints blocked smuggling routes to the camp about a month ago.


Egyptian churches begin preparations to celebrate anniversary of Holy Family’s journey

Updated 19 May 2024
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Egyptian churches begin preparations to celebrate anniversary of Holy Family’s journey

CAIRO: Egypt’s Coptic community is preparing to celebrate the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt, starting on June 1.

Churches in the country have begun early preparations to welcome visitors, focusing on securing and preparing the sites along the journey the Holy Family is believed to have taken.

Robier El-Fares, an Egyptian Coptic researcher for Arab News, said: “The celebration of the journey of the Holy Family is a relatively new tradition that benefits religious tourism in Egypt. This comes after many years of neglecting the celebration.”

He added: “The route includes about 20 locations that represent the journey from Bethlehem in Palestine, fleeing the persecution of Herod who intended to kill Jesus Christ, and their subsequent travel to Egypt through plateaus and deserts.”

Father Augustinos Morris, priest of the Holy Family Church in Zeitoun, Cairo, for the Coptic Catholics, told Arab News: “Masses will be held at nine in the morning and six in the evening for all Copts who wish to participate. The readings are from Matthew 2, which discusses the flight into Egypt, and include a passage from the Old Testament in the Bible, amid the procedures followed in the holiday masses organised by the scout team.”

Father Matta Philip, priest of St. Mary’s Church in Maadi, Cairo, said: “The church is considered the first point of the Holy Family’s journey to Upper Egypt through a staircase, from there to a boat and then to Upper Egypt.”

He said: “Inside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Maadi, there is an icon depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, the altar vessels, and the Bible open to the verse — ‘Blessed be my people Egypt,’ — and a map of the family's route that starts from Arish and extends to the Monastery of Al-Muharraq.”

“Inside the church is the historic staircase that the Holy Family crossed, with an altar at its beginning where prayers are held,” he said. “From this staircase, the family headed to areas like Al-Bahnasa and Mount Al-Tair and other routes to the Monastery of Al-Muharraq, a journey that took about six months.”

Robier El-Fares said: “The known points of the Holy Family’s journey are 20, starting from Farma, located between the cities of Arish and Port Said, then to Tel Basta.”

“In Cairo, there are many points through which the Holy Family passed, including the area of Ain Shams, in addition to other areas in Maadi and Zeitoun, to start the points of Upper Egypt (southern Egypt), which are numerous including Gabal Al-Tair in Minya, and the Monastery of the Virgin Mary,” he said.