Developing world says rich nations shirking on climate pledges

Former US Vice President Al Gore poses for selfies with delegates and observers of the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference 2017, hosted by Fiji but held in Bonn, Germany, Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Developing world says rich nations shirking on climate pledges

PARIS: The failure of wealthy nations to deliver on short-term climate commitments could hinder the rollout of a landmark treaty, a bloc of 134 developing countries, including India and China, warned at UN negotiations in Bonn.
The diplomatic spat has underscored the difficulty of reaching a consensus at the 196-nation talks.
“If we do not respect decisions that we have made, then how can we build trust among the parties?” said Chen Zhihua, China’s senior negotiator, referring to long-standing pledges by rich nations to enhance financial support and “revisit” targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020.
“And how can we lay a good foundation for the implementation of the Paris Agreement?” he added at a press conference Thursday, flanked by diplomats from India, Iran, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
The treaty, inked outside the French capital in 2015, calls on the world to cap global warming at “well below” 2˚C (3.6˚ Fahrenheit), and even 1.5˚C if possible.
With one degree of warming so far, the planet has already seen an increase in drought, deadly heatwaves and superstorms engorged by rising seas.
The pact rests on voluntary carbon-cutting pledges from virtually every country in the world.
But those pledges are not enough to keep Earth in the safe zone, and would still see global temperatures rise a devastating 3˚C (5.6˚F) by century’s end.
Moreover, they don’t kick in until 2020, and developing nations say that’s too long to wait to ramp up action.
“The science is clear: If we don’t get our act together before 2020, you can forget about the 2˚C and 1.5˚C targets,” said Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s chief negotiator at the talks.
“There has been a failure to comply with existing commitments,” he added.
Under the terms of the UN’s core climate convention, the burden for action before 2020 falls mainly on wealthy countries historically responsible for the rapid rise of greenhouse gases.
China is the world’s top carbon polluter, followed by the US, the European Union, India and Russia.
Developing countries sought to have a “pre-2020 agenda” formally added to the negotiating process, but the move was shelved at the start of the 12-day talks. Efforts to resolve the issue have so far been fruitless.
“It would be a bad thing if this hangs over into the second week and becomes a political issue for ministers,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC.
“It has been a pretty sterile debate that has degenerated into a finger-pointing exercise,” he told AFP.
Some 20 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are scheduled to appear at the UN climate forum next week.
The European Union, Australia and the United States — which continues to participate in the talks despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris pact— have balked at training a spotlight on the issue, but are looking for a middle ground.
“There is no disagreement about the pre-2020 urgency,” Elina Bardram, head of the EU’s delegation for COP23, told AFP.
“But we must find solutions that ... do not compromise progress on the agreed negotiations program” for the Paris Agreement.
For Teresa Ribera, director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, the stand-off also reflects the negotiating process.
“It is in part tactical positioning to deflect mounting pressure” on some emerging economies — China and India, in particular — to deepen their own carbon-cutting pledges, she said.
Both countries are projected to easily meet their Paris targets.
But the poor nation-rich nation split that bedevilled these talks for many years has not entirely disappeared.
“This is creating a trust deficit,” said Mohamed Adow, international climate lead for Christian Aid. “How can developing countries trust these very same countries that haven’t taken seriously their previous commitments?“


Singapore’s Arab community traces ancestral roots stretching back centuries to Yemen's Hadhramaut Valley

Updated 1 min 33 sec ago
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Singapore’s Arab community traces ancestral roots stretching back centuries to Yemen's Hadhramaut Valley

  • Though the Indian Ocean separates the Asian metropolis of Singapore and the Arabian deserts of Hadhramaut, the ties that bind them run deep and go back centuries
  • Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Hadhramaut was at one time a key post on the ancient spice trade route

SINGAPORE: The first car to arrive in Tarim, a historic town in the Hadhramaut Valley of Yemen, was an American Studebaker.

It had traveled across oceans and continents to get there — but not without the help of one prominent Arab family in Singapore.

“Tarim’s first car was bought and imported to Singapore by the Alkaff family,” said Zahra Aljunied, whose forefathers came from Tarim. The 62-year-old senior librarian is a fifth-generation Singaporean Arab from the lineage of Syed Omar Aljunied, one of the first Arabs to set foot in the port in 1820.

“They disassembled the car, put it on a ship, and brought it to Mukallah, which is nine hours’ drive from Tarim,” she told Arab News. “Then it was put on the back of camels, brought all the way to Tarim, where they reassembled the car with the S (Singapore number) plate before it was driven.”

Though the Indian Ocean separates the Asian metropolis of Singapore and the Arabian deserts of Hadhramaut, the ties that bind them run deep and go back centuries.

Almost all Arabs in Southeast Asia trace their ancestry to Hadhramaut, a region on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in present-day Yemen. Referred to as Hadhrami Arabs, they began migrating to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in large numbers from the mid-18th century.

Names such as Aljunied, Alkaff and Alsagoff are familiar to most Singaporeans, as streets, buildings, mosques, schools and even a district have been named after these prominent Arab clans. Yet few realize the impact the early Muslim settlers had on colonial Singapore, or on the families they left behind in the homeland.

“When Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, one of the first things he did was to persuade Hadhrami families to come here,” recounted Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo at the launch of a 2010 exhibition about Arabs in Southeast Asia.

“Syed Mohammed Harun Aljunied and (his nephew) Syed Omar Aljunied from Palembang (in present-day Indonesia) were given a warm welcome, and from that time on Singapore became the center of the Hadhrami network in Southeast Asia,” Yeo said. 

Zahra Aljunied, a fifth-generation Singaporean Arab. (AN photo by Munshi Ahmed)

Attracted by Singapore’s free port status, the two men — already successful merchants in Palembang — brought everything they owned “lock, stock and barrel,” said Zahra, whose paternal grandmother came from the line of Syed Omar. 

Syed Omar was born in 1792 in Tarim, a small town in South Yemen widely considered a theological, judicial and academic hub in Hadhramaut. The Malays saw him as a prince because the Aljunied family, being part of the Ba’alawi tribe, can trace their ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad and were regarded as legitimate custodians of Islam. 

But growing up, Tarim was a place that Zahra and her siblings shunned.

“When we were kids, my grandmother or grandfather will say: ‘If you are naughty, we will send you back to Hadhramaut’,” she said, laughing. “So we looked at Hadhramaut as a place we didn’t want to be in. We didn’t look forward to going there.”

But her journey towards discovering her roots took a new turn in 2004, when she became part of a research team from Singapore organizing an exhibition entitled “Rihlah — Arabs in Southeast Asia.” 

That journey drew her back to Hadhramaut five times, and also to Palembang and Java in Indonesia. She discovered that decades of Southeast Asian influence gave Hadhramaut a unique culture not found in other parts of the Middle East.

“When I first went to Hadhramaut, it was so different from Sanaa … It’s their way of life — what they eat, wear, even the language,” she said. 

While men in Sanaa usually wear the traditional Yemeni dress called a thobe, men in Hadhramaut prefer shirts and sarongs, traditional Indonesian clothing often made of Javanese batik. 

“Yes, they dress differently … They eat belacan (the shrimp paste condiment used in Southeast Asia) and keropok (Malay/Indonesian prawn crackers), all imported from Indonesia,” Zahra said.

“You ask me how I’ve assimilated to the culture here, but over in Tarim, they have already assimilated to the culture that is imported from here.” 

Abdul Rahman bin Junied Aljunied, Zahra’s great grandfather. (AN photo by Munshi Ahmed)

Hadhramis have been traversing the Indian Ocean for centuries, said Syed Farid Alatas, professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore.

Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Hadhramaut was at that time a key post on the ancient spice trade route.

“The migration to Southeast Asia was relatively recent compared with the other migrations in East Africa and southern India,” said Alatas, who is also from a prominent Hadhrami family in Southeast Asia.

Famine and economic hardship were some push factors, he added. “But I think you can’t divorce that from a certain interest that Hadhramis have because they were living in the coastal areas. Hadhramaut has a long coast and so they were seafaring and interested in going out, in exploring other places.”

However, the homeland was never far from their hearts. Parents used to send their young sons to Hadhramaut to study in religious schools, where they would to learn Arabic and Islamic values. Sometimes they also married off their local-born daughters to Hadhrami men. 

“They want their sons to know Arabic, so they send them to study there for many years, like my father, my uncle, some of my brothers,” Zahra said. “My grandfather was the same like others before him. They often sent money and many things back to Hadhramaut. Maybe once in three months, my grandmother would get a big carton and put lots of things inside — keropok (prawn crackers), belacan (shrimp paste), the Three Rifles brand (a homegrown brand) men’s singlets.”

Remittances from the Far East soon became the most important source of income for those in the homeland as overpopulation, poverty and arid farming conditions made it difficult to sustain traditional livelihoods such as agriculture, herding and trade.

By the 19th century, Arabs in Southeast Asia dominated trade, commerce and maritime networks. They operated the largest fleets and vessels in the Indo-Malay archipelago, and the port of Singapore became the hub of Hadhrami shipping. For a time, Singapore was also the major transit point for Hajj pilgrims.

Hadhrami Arabs were instrumental in the spread of Islam in the region. Many held high positions in civic and religious affairs or took part in politics. Others owned large swathes of land in the early colonial days — an estimated 50 percent of Singapore’s total land mass at one time, according to one scholar. 

Known for their philanthropy, they also donated much of their land for cemeteries, hospitals and places of worship including famous landmarks such as St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Singapore’s first mosque, Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka — both of which still stand today.

After World War II, however, Arab wealth and prominence in Singapore began to fade, due in part to rent controls as the government sought to curb inflation. The introduction of the 1966 land acquisition act also affected Arab land ownership as the post-independence government bought property  for state development.

Estimates put the Arab population in Singapore at about 10,000 today, but some say that the numbers are difficult to determine as many have assimilated into the Malay community and no longer distinguish themselves as Arabs. 

Syed Harun bin Hassan Aljunied, Zahra’s paternal grandfather. (AN photo by Munshi Ahmed)

“Many Hadhrami emigrants intermarried with their host societies and integrated so completely that after the passing of a generation or two, their descendants could no longer be regarded as members of a diaspora. Others, however, chose to retain their affiliation to the homeland,” wrote historian Ulrike Freitag in her book “Indian Ocean Migrants and State Formation in Hadhramaut: Reforming the Homeland.”

However, she warned that “it would be premature to conclude that members of the Hadhrami diaspora have either all departed or assimilated to the extent of renouncing their Hadhrami identity.”

Some observers say that Singaporean Arabs have lost their identity since many young Arabs no longer speak Arabic and have little ties to Hadhramaut, but Alatas disagreed.

“Have Singaporean Chinese lost their identity?” he asked. “Singaporean Chinese are not like the Chinese in China. Even if they speak Mandarin, they think differently from Chinese in China. On that basis, is it fair to say that Chinese in Singapore have lost their identity?”

Arabs are no exception, he said. “You have Arabs in Singapore who feel and strongly identify themselves as Arab. On the other hand, you have those who have assimilated into Malay society — they know they have Arab ancestry, but they feel Malay.

“Then you have Arabs who are in between, who are creole.”

The war in Yemen has taken a huge human and economic toll on the country and disrupted transport links. Even those hoping to maintain ties with their ancestral home find it hard to return.

Flights have become irregular and expensive, and reaching Tarim now involves a 10-hour bus journey from Salalah in Oman, Zahra said.

“My father also stopped going,” she said sadly. “I miss Tarim.”