Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week: Senior officials take stock of MENA progress in fight against climate change

The opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), the global platform for accelerating sustainability hosted by Masdar – Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. (WAM)
The opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), the global platform for accelerating sustainability hosted by Masdar – Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. (WAM)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week: Senior officials take stock of MENA progress in fight against climate change

The opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), the global platform for accelerating sustainability hosted by Masdar – Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. (WAM)
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE praised for pioneering green energy initiatives as part of accelerated climate actions
  • US climate envoy John Kerry sees the Middle East playing a big role in shift to clean, renewable power 

DUBAI: Efforts by governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to accelerate climate action were praised at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in the UAE capital.

Since its inauguration in 2008, ADSW has been bringing members of the global community together to accelerate sustainable development.

In keeping with this practice, this year’s events provided heads of state, policy makers, business leaders and technology pioneers with a platform to share knowledge, showcase innovation and outline strategies for delivering climate action.

Amid growing concerns over the impact of global warming, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, were cited by ADSW participants as examples for the rest of the world on the strength of their pioneering “green energy” initiatives.

John Kerry, US President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, detailed the significant progress made by countries throughout the MENA region.

The UAE is preparing to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in 2023, making it only the third Arab country to be given the honor. Egypt will be the host of COP27, to be held later this year, exactly 10 years after Qatar became the first Arab country to welcome COP delegates.

Held once a year, the conference brings together representatives of governments that signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change to discuss how to jointly address climate change.

The Paris Agreement, signed by almost all countries in the world at COP21 in 2015, aims, among other things, to keep the rise in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but ideally keep it to 1.5 degrees.




The UAE is preparing to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in 2023, making it only the third Arab country to be given the honor. (AFP)

“The region is stepping up and it’s an extremely important message to the rest of the world, that (those) who are producers of the current source of our power, energy and heating, recognize that there will be a transition,” Kerry said.

“Clearly, we are moving toward clean, renewable power and sustainable structures, and the Middle East, together with the Horn of Africa, is going to play a huge role in that over the course of the next two years.”

Indeed, MENA oil and gas producers are increasingly being viewed as part of the solution, with the region boasting some of the lowest methane emissions in their production.

While carbon dioxide is widely identified as the chief culprit behind global warming, methane is second on the list of the worst greenhouse gas contributors to climate change.

Total indirect greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations today are around 5,200 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. Methane is the largest single component of these indirect emissions.

Unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, methane is gone in about 10 to 15 years. But while it is in the atmosphere, methane has a detrimental effect up to 85 times worse than CO2 (over a 20-year period).

“That is a serious problem when we look at the fact that over the next 10 years. We have our greatest challenge of trying to reduce our emissions by at least 45 percent,” Kerry said. “So, to achieve that, methane has to be part of the solution and, for whatever reason, it has been the stepchild of the process and nobody has really focused in on it.”

This year, Biden and the EU announced an initiative to get 109 nations to sign the methane pledge and start working together to “plug the leaks.”




John Kerry, US President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, detailed the significant progress made by countries throughout the MENA region. (Supplied)

The collective hope is that global methane emissions will be reduced by 30 percent by 2030 — the equivalent of every automobile, truck, aircraft and ship going to zero emissions in that time. “That’s a gigantic gain for all of us,” Kerry said. “It saves about 0.2 degrees on the rise of temperature during those 10 years and that would be a remarkable gain right now.”

The path to sustainable economies and societies will have to overcome the existential threat that climate change poses, with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report predicting that every region in the world will experience concurrent and multiples changes in climate impact drivers, such as more frequent rainfall, droughts and wildfires.

“These pale in comparison to the upheaval projected in coming decades,” Halimah Yacob, the Singaporean president, told ADSW attendees.

“However, tackling climate change is an immensely complex challenge and must go far beyond annual conferences. It requires a global response through ambitious plans, concrete action and resolute commitment from all countries, big and small — this is the only way we can close the emissions gap and reach our collective goal of a net-zero planet.”

Today, renewable and clean sources of energy supply only 20 percent of global power, with current projections estimating that renewable energy sources will form only 40 percent of total global generation by 2040.

What this signifies, according to Awaidha Murshed Ali Al-Marar, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy, is that the world will still need to use fossil fuels for decades to come.

“Like with any serious disease, the treatment plan won’t be effective and long-lasting unless it incorporates essential lifestyle adjustments,” Al-Marar said in his remarks at ADSW. “It is critical that we form new regional and international partnerships.”

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini king’s representative for humanitarian works and youth affairs and president of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, said that with the deadline for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals just eight years away, young people should have a seat at the climate table to ensure a greener future.




Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini king’s representative for Humanitarian Works and Youth Affairs and President of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, said young people must have a seat at the climate table. (Supplied)

The world’s 1.8 billion young citizens will be worst affected by the climate crisis, and they are considered the most committed to change, armed with innovative ideas for effecting positive change for tomorrow, Al-Khalifa told ADSW.

“Youth are passionate, energetic, curious, committed, connected, knowledgeable and technologically equipped,” Al-Khalifa said.

“Without support, they cannot leverage these unique attributes to be the real game changers in creating a net-zero future. We must trust youth in the power to lead meaningful change.”

Bahrain has set up several initiatives to involve its youth in the process, in line with its Economic Vision 2030, Al-Khalifa said.

He expressed great hope in young people, describing them as malleable, resilient and tech-savvy. He said that they are early adopters, innovators and trendsetters. “All this makes them primed and prepped for innovation, disruption and catalysts of new thought and creative solutions,” the sheikh added.

“We see this positive ethos and youth culture spread across different sectors and spheres. As we chart our pathways for a greener future, youth will remain the driving force for socio-economic and cultural transformation across our communities.”

Despite the enormous commitment made in Glasgow at last year’s COP26, Kerry said the challenge today is to work with the remaining 35 percent and bring them on board as rapidly as possible to meet that goal.

“We know that the warming is going on at accelerated rates, particularly in the Arctic, where ice is melting much more rapidly and several times faster than anywhere else on the planet,” he said.




Awaidha Murshed Ali Al-Marar, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy, addresses Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. (Supplied)

“And as the ice melts, it opens up dark brackish ocean waters, which contain more heat and that accelerates warming. So, you have a negative feedback loop.”

With mudslides, storms and floods intensifying around the world, Kerry pointed out that when countries gather next year to assess their progress, thanks to the advantage of visibility through satellites, every country will be held accountable without the need to report.

“People are going to be able to measure what’s happening with deforestation and the carbon footprint of big corporations and countries,” he said. “We’ve made a big leap forward, but no one is moving fast enough. We are way behind in our retirement of coal power plants and in our efforts to stop leakage of methane and deploy renewable energy.”

In this race against time, however, the private sector will play a crucial role as Kerry believes no government can afford to accelerate such a transition on its own. Global efforts have identified over $100 trillion ready to be invested in new technologies related to clean energy, from battery storage, carbon capture, utilization and storage, smart grids and hydrogen.




Among the ADSW participants was Alok Sharma (L), the British minister and president of COP26, and Halimah Yacob (R), the Singaporean president. (Screenshots/ADSW)

“The reality is that it’s going to need a very significant amount of investment to effect this transition,” Kerry said. “Energy produces revenue, so we have to be creative about how we deploy that money.

“It is better to be investing in a big solar field or a new energy product that will produce revenue, rather than to leave your money sitting in a bank somewhere with net negative interests.”

Among the ADSW participants was Alok Sharma, the British minister and president of COP26, who arrived in the UAE from Egypt, where he met a wide range of government ministers, including Egypt’s COP president-designate, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Together they issued a UK-Egypt statement which affirmed their joint commitment to accelerating the fight against climate change during this decade.

Sharma’s first visits following COP26 will culminate in a meeting between Egypt, the UAE and Britain in Abu Dhabi, the first of a series of engagements between the countries in the lead-up to COP27 and COP28. 


Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
Updated 18 May 2022

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
  • The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A second commercial flight carrying dozens of passengers landed at the Houthi-held Sanaa airport on Wednesday as international mediators and world powers continue to pressure Yemen’s warring parties to extend the two-month truce.

The plane took off from Amman in the morning and landed at Sanaa airport at 2 p.m., further boosting hopes of the resumption of flights to other destinations, and the strengthening of the ceasefire.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy who had helped to negotiate the peace pact, announced the departure of the second flight from Jordan’s capital.

“A second commercial flight took off from Amman to Sanaa carrying Yemeni passengers at 10:30 a.m. today, as per the terms of the truce agreement and is scheduled to return back from Sanaa to Amman with Yemeni passengers at 4 p.m.,” Grundberg tweeted.

The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country.

The resumption of the flights from Sanaa is one of several terms of the truce that came into effect on April 2. Under the agreement, the Yemeni parties would stop fighting on all fronts, allow fuel ships to enter Hodeidah seaports, and work with the UN to open roads in Taiz and other provinces.

At the same time, the UN envoy said on Wednesday that he resumed his meetings with Yemeni economists, politicians and security figures in Amman to produce ideas for his peace plan.

“The UN envoy for #Yemen resumes today his consultations to identify economic, political & security priorities for the multi-track process. Today he meets with a diverse group of Yemeni public figures, experts & civil society actors,” his office tweeted.

In his remarks to the press after his closed briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Grundberg said that he discussed extending the pact with various Yemeni parties. “Yemenis can’t afford to go back to the pre-truce state of perpetual military escalation and political stalemate. I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce,” he said, adding that the Houthis have not nominated their representatives for a meeting with the Yemeni government that would discuss ending their siege on Taiz.

Tim Lenderking, the US’ envoy to Yemen, also urged the warring factions to uphold and extend the truce, and to jointly work on opening roads in Taiz.

“We hope the resumption of flights to & from Sanaa brings relief to Yemenis. We must ensure the freedom of movement of people & goods, incl opening roads to Taiz. We call on the parties to adhere to & extend the @UN truce,” Lenderking tweeted.

In the besieged Taiz, residents have intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to draw attention to their daily suffering.

“This siege has turned the city of Taiz into a large prison and caused a real human tragedy. They opened Sanaa airport and ports and ignored Taiz’s suffering from the siege,” Ahmed Al-Qaidhy, an activist from the area, told Arab News.


Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
Updated 18 May 2022

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
  • The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats

RAMALLAH: The Islamic bloc affiliated with Hamas won the student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, defeating their Fatah rivals in the tightly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs contested 51 seats, while the voter turnout was 78.1 percent. 

Students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the previous day, with both parties’ policies and programs coming in for criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the Palestinian Authority in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and losing elections frequently.

A day before the vote, seven senior student members of the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts told Arab News.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of the university, said that the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “because of the credibility, integrity and democracy at the Birzeit elections.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by employment interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with great integrity.”

He added: “If Hamas wins, the street is supportive and biased toward it. If Fatah wins, this means that the street is with it.”

Daraghmeh said that both Fatah and Hamas make great efforts to win the students’ backing.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse, and show that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and political line,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its inability to organize Palestinian general elections.”

Birzeit elections are held every two years, with about 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no vote in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council consists of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university, and is the only West Bank academic institution that allows Hamas to practice its activities and politics without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s degree programs and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group views the student vote as “an essential indicator” because it highlights the direction of future generations.

“The Birzeit University elections constitute an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the type of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.


Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority
Updated 18 May 2022

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority
  • The elections saw gains by anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents
  • The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory”

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority in elections but said no single group had taken it, in his first televised speech since Sunday’s elections.
“Unlike the situation in parliament in 2018, no political group can claim a majority,” he said.
Hezbollah and its allies scored 62 seats during Sunday polls, according to a Reuters tally, losing a majority they secured in 2018, when they and their allies won 71 seats.
Hezbollah and its ally Amal held on to all of parliament’s Shiite seats. But some of its oldest allies, including Sunni, Druze and Christian politicians, lost theirs.
The elections saw gains by the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents.
The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory.”
Nasrallah called for “cooperation” between political groups including newcomers, saying the alternative would be “chaos and vacuum.”
The results have left parliament split into several camps, none of which have a majority, raising the prospect of political paralysis and tensions that could delay badly needed reforms to steer Lebanon out of its economic collapse.


Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder
Updated 18 May 2022

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder
  • The defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide
  • A court-ordered psychological assessment found him "responsible for his actions"

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced to death a man accused of the murder last month of a Coptic priest in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, judicial sources said.
The Alexandria court’s ruling is subject to approval by the mufti of the republic.
The sources said the defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide after a court-ordered psychological assessment found him “responsible for his actions.”
Father Arsanios Wadid died of his wounds in hospital after being stabbed on April 7 on Alexandria’s seafront promenade as he accompanied a group of young parishioners.
The assailant was grabbed by passers-by and handed over to police, who detained him in a psychiatric hospital because of doubts over his mental health.
Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up roughly 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of more than 100 million.
The community has long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation.
In February, however, Egypt for the first time swore in a Coptic judge to head its constitutional court.
Copts were targeted in a series of sectarian attacks after the military in 2013 deposed Islamist president Muhammad Mursi. Such attacks focused largely on remote villages in southern Egypt.


Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge
Updated 18 May 2022

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge
  • Analysts have added up MPs to figure out the size of the parliamentary blocs, which are divided between sovereign blocs and pro-Hezbollah groupings

BEIRUT: Newly elected reformist MPs in Lebanon are planning strategies following election breakthroughs that grant them significant sway in the parliamentary balance of power.

Thirteen reformist MPs in Lebanon who entered the legislative race on the values of the 2019 anti-establishment uprising, as well as 21 independent MPs, have entered the newly elected Lebanese Parliament.

Analysts have added up MPs to figure out the size of the parliamentary blocs, which are divided between sovereign blocs and pro-Hezbollah groupings.

Figures show that elected MPs may be positioned within 13 blocs divided into two opposite larger camps, forming the 128-MP Parliament.

The sovereign MPs can be classified based on their previous positions. A total of 68 MPs are opposed to Hezbollah. They include members from the Lebanese Forces Party, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Islamic Group and the Lebanese Phalanges Party, as well as independents and reformists.

Meanwhile, the pro-Hezbollah camp includes the party itself, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada Movement, the Tashnaq Party and Al-Ahbash, for a total of about 60 MPs.

There is much speculation about how the new independent MPs will deal with upcoming events, and how they will position themselves on the parliamentary map.

A political observer told Arab News: “We will see the true colors of every MP when topics related to core issues are discussed.”

The observer added: “Will these MPs change their stance regarding Hezbollah’s illegal weapons, although some have avoided addressing this sensitive issue in the past? Will these MPs be able to form a unified bloc that can influence decisions within Parliament, or will they remain independent, each working alone?”

Suleiman Franjieh, head of the Marada Movement and a candidate for the Presidency, appealed to reformist MPs, saying: “Do not place strict conditions on yourselves so that you do not become isolated, because theory is one thing, and practice is another.”

Fouad Siniora, former Lebanon PM, who backed a list in Beirut and whose candidates all failed to reach parliament, said: “Sovereign MPs must develop a correct vision for the future on how to confront Hezbollah’s domination and control in order to restore the Lebanese state.”

He added: “In 2008, the sovereign forces had won 72 seats in parliament, but Hezbollah at that time refused to form a majority government.”

Siniora warned against backing down as the March 14 forces did in 2009, which cost them their power.

A video shared on social media shocked voters in Tripoli and around the country. The elected MP Firas Salloum, who was on the Real Change list with the Islamic Group, was filmed celebrating his victory by dancing to a song supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The video prompted the Islamic Group to issue a statement renouncing Salloum. It said: “He does not represent us as he seemed proud of his affiliation to the criminal tyrant, who blew up the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam Mosques in Tripoli, and killed our people in Syria.”

The statement demanded that Salloum resign “because he does not represent the city and does not resemble its people.”

Reformist MP Elias Jarada said: “Taking the revolution from the street to the Parliament necessitates adopting a policy of reaching out to all for dialogue so that the 17 October revolution becomes a model for dynamic political action. It is important to be realistic because parliament includes groups that represent other categories of the Lebanese people.”

Several reformist MPs rushed to convene with their groups to determine their next steps in Parliament.

Elected reformist MP Ibrahim Mneimneh, whose list won three parliamentary seats in Beirut’s second constituency, said: “The reformist MPs will be the revolutionary voice in parliament. We will not compromise with the criminal regime that destroyed our lives, and we will not compromise in the face of intimidation with weapons, nor over the sale of state assets, the money of depositors, or the path of justice with the Beirut port blast and the explosion in Akkar.”

Leaked news suggested that reformist MP Melhem Khalaf, former head of the Beirut Bar Association who took part in protests against state corruption and helped release detained protesters, could possibly be elected deputy parliament speaker, succeeding Elie Ferzli, who has held the position since 2000, but failed to reach Parliament in the recent elections.

Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is seeking a new term, is reportedly making efforts to win over civil society, and supports having Khalaf as his deputy.

Major challenges await the newly elected house, the first of which is electing a speaker and a deputy speaker, followed by parliamentary consultations to assign someone to form a new government, then electing a new president in September or October after Michel Aoun’s term ends.

There are also significant legislative obligations, within the framework of reforms required by the international community to extricate Lebanon from its worsening economic crisis.