With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

The Hamdan Al-Qara mosque in southern Amman is equipped with 140 solar panels on its roof. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2018

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

  • Almost all the mosques in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs
  • The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022

AMMAN: Poking above the bright pink bougainvillea that spills into the street, the lone minaret of the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque towers over the Khalda neighborhood of Amman.
Aside from its colorful stain-glassed windows and ornate calligraphy, this mosque stands out for another reason: its roof is covered with shining solar panels that make the building’s carbon emissions close to zero.
The structure is part of a wider effort by mosques — and many other buildings in the city — to capitalize on Jordan’s plentiful sunshine and shift toward renewable energy, in a bid to achieve Amman’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2050.
“Almost all the mosques here in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs” with renewable power, said Yazan Ismail, an energy auditor at ETA-max Energy and Environmental Solutions, a green consultancy in Jordan.
Amman is one of more than 70 cities worldwide that are aiming to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning they will produce no more climate-changing emissions than they can offset, such as by planting carbon-absorbing trees.
Each is going about achieving the goal in its own way. But because cities account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations, and consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, whether they succeed or fail will have a huge impact on if the world’s climate goals are met.
In Amman, the push to make mosques greener — which began in 2014, with backing from the Ministry of Religious Affairs — has been so successful that many are now selling excess energy back to the national grid, Ismail said.
For the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque’s imam, who speaks to the faithful in his Friday sermons about protecting the climate, the decision to adopt clean energy coincides with wider religious values.
“The main reason for the use of solar energy is religious duty,” said Ahmad Al-Rawashdeh. Islam urges conservation of nature’s resources, he said, and “warns against extravagance.”
But the use of solar energy, and power-saving LED lightbulbs, also is helping the mosque financially, he admitted.
Amman, where temperatures already soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, has clear incentives to try to hold the line on global warming.
But renewables are far from the norm in most of the country. Jordan still imports close to 96 percent of its energy, most of it polluting fossil fuels, from its Middle Eastern neighbors, according to the World Bank.
Government officials say they are going to change that.
“We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030,” Minister of Environment Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez said.
The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, Al-Fayez said. It’s a target he thinks will be met early, in part as solar panels go up on the city’s homes, businesses and government buildings.
Earlier this year the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) put in place $188 million in financing to develop Jordan’s largest solar power plant for the state National Electric Power Company.
The project is scheduled to go online in the first half of 2020, and will supply power to about 110,000 homes while displacing 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, a statement from Masdar said.
On the other side of the city, the Al-Hoffaz international academy — one of the first schools to go solar in Amman, in 2013 — now gets almost 95 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said Khaled Al-Salaymah, assistant general manager of the school.
At Al-Hoffaz, children in orange and black uniforms chant their times-tables as they file down the stairs of the academy, one of about 100 schools in Amman seeking to lower carbon emissions.
“Based on our community and public responsibilities we want to reduce our emissions and carbon contribution urgently,” said Al-Salaymah.
“Also, there’s an economic dimension: we’ve reduced our energy consumption costs too,” he said.
Along with glimmering solar electrical panels covering the basketball court, the teachers’ car park and much of the roof, the school uses solar water heaters and recycles its waste while also prioritizing environmental education, he said.
“We hold awareness sessions for students, parents and teachers here to ensure they know the benefits of going green and using renewable energy,” Al-Salaymah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s not just installing solar panels. We want to be green in every way.”
He said he had noticed a rise in social awareness of the risks of climate change, particularly among young Jordanians.
“The mentality has changed,” he said.
Jordan is also trying to cut emissions from tourism. The country hopes to market itself as a haven for ecotourists keen to stay in zero-carbon resorts along the salty Dead Sea or near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra.
The Feynan Ecolodge sits on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, on the road to the ancient crimson carved city of Petra.
With solar appliances serving its 26 rooms and candle-lit corridors, the lodge is entirely off grid, and offers visitors the chance to feast on vegetarian food, stargaze or learn to bake bread beneath the hot sand.
Manager Nabil Tarazi said the lodge’s daily energy consumption was less than that of a two-bedroom apartment in Amman.
The lodge is part of a string of buildings backed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), including a similar resort north of Amman in the protected forest reserve of Ajloun.
Nestled among evergreen oaks, that lodge harvests rainwater and uses geothermal heating and cooling to keep its emissions at net zero.
Despite Jordan’s efforts to cut carbon emissions, Amman faces big challenges, including a booming population, swollen by the arrival of more than half a million refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria.
Arid Amman is also among the most water-stressed cities in the world — enough that Jordan is now looking into desalination plants to keep the taps running.
But the push for solar power may also help.
A May report by the World Resources Institute found that thirsty Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Jordan, could cut water demand by switching to solar power, which uses less water to produce than fossil fuel electricity generation.
Jordan’s Environment Minister Al-Fayez said he has confidence Amman — and the country — will continue pushing to meet their ambitious carbon-cutting goals.
“We’re always optimistic in Jordan. That’s the way that we survive,” he said.


Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

Updated 26 November 2020

Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

  • Without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs
  • Vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied

AMMAN: An Israeli court has forced state authorities to reveal the criteria that need to be met for Palestinian Jerusalem youth to become citizens of Israel.

The judicial order will mean that approximately 20,000 Palestinians aged between 18 and 21 living in East Jerusalem will now know the requirements when petitioning for Israeli citizenship, which is not automatically granted to them as residents of the city.

The vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied, nor have the desire, to become Israelis. But the court decision should in future make the application process easier for those interested in carrying an Israeli passport and having the protection of the Israeli government regarding their legal status.

Jerusalem attorney, Mohammed Dahdal, who has practiced civil and human rights law for more than 30 years, noted that without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs, among other things.

However, they did pay taxes to Israel and received social benefits such as national insurance, unemployment payments, and healthcare coverage.

Dahdal told Arab News that after 1988, when Jordan disengaged from the West Bank, which included East Jerusalem, Jerusalemites became stateless citizens. He said the ruling had come about after a Palestinian from Jerusalem had appealed to the court after revealing a loophole in the law.

He noted that the court decision, published by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, made four conditions to ensure receipt of an Israeli passport. “That the applicant has no other citizenship, that they were born in Israel (for Israel, East and West Jerusalem are both parts of Israel), that the applicant is between 18 and 21 years old, and has lived continuously in Israel during the five years preceding applying for citizenship.”

The lawyer added that the Israeli government had fought in court to have the criteria for citizenship kept under wraps.

Former Jordanian member of parliament, Audeh Kawwas, who was on Wednesday appointed as a member of the Jordanian Senate, told Arab News: “If the aim is to solve the statelessness issue of Jerusalemites, I am for it and I have spoken about it (as a committee member) in the World Council of Churches.

“However, if this is an attempt to disenfranchise Palestinians and to make the city more Israeli, then I am totally opposed.”

Hazem Kawasmi, a community activist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that many young Palestinian Jerusalemites were in a desperate situation, as no government or institution was taking care of them and their needs.

He said: “They are living under occupation with daily harassment from the police and Israeli intelligence and face all kinds of racism and enmity.

“Israeli citizenship helps them get high-skilled jobs and it is a prerequisite for many jobs. It helps them travel for tourism or work to Europe and the US without the cumbersome, complicated procedures of getting visas, that is if they get it at all.

“Finally, Israeli citizenship makes the youth feel safe not to lose their residency in Jerusalem and movement and work in Israel,” he added.

Khalil Assali, a member of the Jerusalem Waqf and an observer of Jerusalem affairs, told Arab News that he was doubtful that Israel would speed up the process for granting Israeli citizenship. “They have made this move to show their newly established Arab friends that they are acting democratically.”

Hijazi Risheq, head of the Jerusalem Merchants’ committee, told Arab News that the Israelis were looking for ways to turn the city into a Jewish one. By giving citizenship to youth between the ages of 18 and 21, Israel was aiming to deter them from carrying out hostile acts against Israel and keep them away from the Palestinian National Authority and its security forces, he said.

Jerusalem-based human rights activist, Rifaat Kassis, said: “The idea that Jerusalem is Arab has become an empty slogan. Meanwhile, Israeli racism has become the overriding power that forces Jerusalemites trying to have a dignified life with their families to live under difficult conditions.”