COP28 can be a catalyst for climate education in MENA

COP28 can be a catalyst for climate education in MENA
Above, the dry Chiba dam near the city of Korba in northeastern Tunisia on April 4, 2023. Tunisia’s dams are at critical lows following years of drought, exacerbated by pipeline leaks in a decrepit distribution network. (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2023

COP28 can be a catalyst for climate education in MENA

COP28 can be a catalyst for climate education in MENA
  • Novel solutions needed for multifaceted environmental challenges
  • Ecological, political, economic, social factors require consideration

DUBAI: In the early years of the 21st century, humanity finds itself confronted with an unparalleled environmental predicament: an intensified greenhouse effect fueling global warming and precipitous alterations in the delicate fabric of the climate system. Undeniably, this phenomenon stands as one of the most formidable challenges ever faced by our species. It defies resolution through the mere application of scientific knowledge, linear thinking, or analytical approaches alone.

As the 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP28, approaches, hosted by the UAE, it is important to acknowledge the value of such international platforms in addressing the region’s unique climate challenges and proposing innovative solutions through climate education.

Unlike the localized environmental issues of the past, wherein a single source of pollution caused readily identifiable consequences, today’s global environmental problems encompass a complex amalgamation of interwoven global and local dynamics. This intricate interplay involves ecological, political, economic, and social factors, necessitating novel strategies of learning and thinking to comprehend and address its multifaceted nature.

The recently released report “Advancing Regional Climate Education” by the Fiker Institute brings together the insights of two experts — Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO of the Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation and Joe Y. Battikh, head of the Energy & Water Knowledge Hub at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their efforts have resulted in a report that underscores the significance of climate education and offers practical solutions for advancing it.

Amidst this intricate landscape, the importance of climate education emerges as a critical catalyst for change. It is within this context that Ben Jaafar and Battikh’s report sheds light on the current state of climate education in the region, presenting a compelling case for transformative action. With their expertise in educational leadership, sustainability management, and a shared commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by the Middle East and North Africa, the authors provide valuable insights for change.

They outlined the key elements of their work in an exclusive interview with Arab News recently.

The paradox of collaboration and localization

One of the key implications highlighted in the report is the importance of addressing region-specific issues. Ben Jaafar underscores the spotty nature of these solutions and advocates for a more comprehensive approach.

During the 2023 World Government Summit held in Dubai, stakeholders recognized the imperative of employing both top-down and bottom-up strategies to address the complexities of climate change. Ben Jaafar underlined the paradoxical nature of the situation, wherein fostering cross-border collaboration and knowledge-sharing is crucial, while concurrently respecting and empowering local communities. She emphasized the significance of collaborative efforts in establishing a novel framework that adapts to the present realities while encompassing future scenarios.

“It’s a paradox because we’re asking for these very big pieces and we’re asking for localization. And the only way that we’re going to move forward that was really clear at the summit is if we do that together. So I think that it’s significant because what we need is to work collaboratively while respecting local solutions and the ability for communities to solve their own issues. And that means creating the next kind of whatever this is going to look like in the future. Creating it and also adapting to the realities of right now,” said Ben Jaafar.

Battikh discussed their involvement with the Fiker Institute, an organization dedicated to amplifying the voice of West Asia and North Africa, and further highlighted the importance of regional representation in the fight against climate change.

He drew attention to the existence of multiple entities in close proximity within the region that are working on similar solutions, yet often lack awareness of each other’s efforts. This lack of awareness and communication hampers collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and resources. Moreover, he underscored the prevailing dependence on external catalysts or events from other countries to bring stakeholders together and facilitate collaboration in the region. Battikh emphasized the need to overcome this dependence and establish a self-driven approach to collaboration within the region.

By shedding light on this issue, Battikh effectively underscored the significance of nurturing internal coordination mechanisms and establishing platforms that actively encourage stakeholders to congregate and collectively address the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change. This compels people to recognize the necessity of cultivating a collaborative space where individuals and organizations can convene, exchange ideas, and synergistically work toward discovering solutions. The observed fragmentation within the region, if left unaddressed, not only limits opportunities for fruitful collaborations but also undermines the optimal allocation of resources.

In view of Battikh’s perspective, the forthcoming COP28 assumes a pivotal role in facilitating the realization of this collaborative framework. Battikh said that the event provides a significant platform for deliberating regional issues and proposing context-specific solutions. This aligns seamlessly with the report’s overarching emphasis on the imperative of addressing region-specific challenges in the context of education and training, thereby accentuating the need to incorporate diverse perspectives and insights into the collective endeavor to combat climate change.

Role of education in climate action

The pivotal role of education in addressing climate change is widely recognized as it equips individuals and communities with the necessary knowledge, skills, and behavioral changes needed for climate-resilient sustainable development. Education serves as a catalyst for informed decision-making and proactive engagement in climate action.

An important aspect of education is its potential to empower young people and future generations, enabling them to assume environmental leadership roles within their communities and drive inclusive adaptation efforts. It is through education and training that these individuals gain the expertise and know-how required to address climate challenges effectively.

In the context of climate action, educational institutions play a crucial role in driving scalable and effective adaptation programs. The Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation recognizes the significance of incorporating education into collaborative partnerships and supports initiatives that focus on green technologies, solar energy efficiency, and e-mobility in partnership with universities including the American University of Beirut. However, Ben Jaafar emphasized that going beyond the curriculum is essential, urging for the strengthening of research and development partnerships between industry and universities for accelerated progress in solving climate-related challenges.

The Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation has made significant investments in youth education, particularly in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to align future-focused careers with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The report by the World Economic Forum on the potential of the green transition to create 30 million jobs in clean energy efficiency and low emission technologies by 2030 reinforces the link between climate action and socio-economic development. Ben Jaafar highlighted the opportunities for employment generation and addressing pressing issues such as high-water scarcity and unemployment in the region. This highlights the importance of integrating climate education and preparing future generations for the jobs of the future.

Ben Jaafar emphasized the importance of empowering young people to address community needs and solve their own issues by providing them with toolkits and knowledge related to solar power, green energy, and other STEM topics. This comprehensive approach contributes to building a workforce that prioritizes sustainability, he said.

“Nobody is ever going to care about your community, the way you care about your community, and nobody will ever understand the needs as much as you will understand those needs because you’re living in them. So creating a space for these young people to actually learn about solar power, energy, green energy, all these different topics embedded within STEM gives them the toolkits and the knowledge to be able to live in their communities and solve their own issues and solve their own community issues so that they can adapt, so that they can understand it,” Ben Jaafar said.

Ben Jaafar also mentioned the collaboration between the Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund and the Makani centers, emphasizing their alignment with the UN’s SDGs and their focus on global innovation that addresses local community needs. One example highlighted in the report is the hydroponic rooftop gardens in the Jerash Camp, which provide valuable training opportunities for vulnerable young women and men. This training equips them with the skills to sustain and manage the gardens, creating new income-generating opportunities and addressing agricultural needs within the camp.

“The hydroponic rooftop gardens in the Jerash camp came out of a training session at the Makani center, but I don’t know that somebody in Toronto is going to understand that a hydroponic garden could actually save lives because it can actually produce what they need in that context. So making those kinds of connections to us is very important. And that’s why to me, you know, climate education in the region, for the region, is so incredibly important,” Ben Jaafar said.

“It’s not just about what we’ve done with the scholarships. It’s also what we’ve done with His Excellency’s Refugee Education Fund, you know, making sure that we have learners who have automotive technology for the hybrid technology, hybrid maintenance, things that are small like that, that allows them to have jobs. And we’ve done that through Luminous Technical University in Jordan, for example,” Ben Jaafar said.

“So I think, at least for me, what was important about this paper was to present these examples, and these were only select examples. We have so many more in the region. When the education is there and when the opportunity is there, there are so many intelligent individuals who, if given the space and the opportunity and the knowledge and the skills, they can actually create solutions.

“And that to me was the power of what we’ve been able to do with the foundation and the Refugee Education Fund. It is to be able to enable communities to rise above the challenges that they live in, be they conflict conditions, the refugee conditions or simply impoverished conditions. And I think that those are realities in the region that we just need to face head on,” Ben Jaafar added.

Battikh, supporting the notion that education institutions can contribute to climate-adaptation programs, pointed out the need to focus on curriculum integration, research and training. He mentioned the partnership between the ICRC and Grundfos, a major pump manufacturer, as an example of how collaboration and curriculum development can be mutually beneficial. The partnership involved training sessions for engineers from conflict-affected areas, facilitating knowledge exchange and feedback between academia and industry.

“During the first training session with Grundfos, we had 11 engineers coming from six countries around the world. So we had people from the Philippines, Myanmar, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan. And so they came here and they spent a week within the Grundfos workshop. And it was a two-way kind of conversation. So in a way, we developed the curriculum and we pushed it towards the students, but at the same time, the engineers gave feedback to us in terms of what kind of solutions they need from the ground. I think the fact that they work in specific conflict areas where there’s a specific need, which is different from what the industry is working on, (is) a unique setup for developing these curricula.”

Challenges in climate education and the need for adaptation

Ben Jaafar identified two major challenges hindering the advancement of climate education. The first is the rapid pace of change, requiring the education sector to respond quickly. The second challenge lies in the existing problems within the education sector itself, such as high rates of “learning poverty” and diverse situations across the region. She emphasized the need to view climate education as critical to the future and called for a shift in perception that sees it as an integral part of the curriculum, rather than an optional addition.

“We have serious challenges in education, period, writ large. Leave alone climate education in the region. We have an extremely high rate of learning poverty at 60 percent in the MENA region, which is essentially a 10-year-old kid who cannot read a text. We have extremely diverse situations in the region from those who invest a lot in education, to those who cannot. So being able to kind of look at climate education and say this is not an add-on, this is critical to our future, is one of the challenges that we have, to say that it is not this extra thing,” Ben Jaafar said.

Ben Jaafar referenced, as a viable proposition, the Green Education Partnership, an initiative aimed at providing schools in the UAE with a national framework to bolster climate education and foster youth engagement in environmental action. This partnership seeks to imbue schools with a green ethos by incorporating sustainability principles into their operations, curricula, teacher training programs, and wider systemic capabilities, while also forging connections with local communities. It sets ambitious targets and utilizes the COP28 platform as a catalyst to drive collaboration among various partners, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, International Renewable Energy Agency, and the UN Children’s Fund.

She also drew attention to the need for concerted effort from academia, industry and government because their collective endeavors remain vital for realizing the SDGs and addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change. By fostering an ecosystem of collaboration, where knowledge is shared, research is disseminated, and policies are informed by evidence, the region can unlock its full potential in the pursuit of sustainable development.

“If higher education in particular, continues to isolate themselves, where they’re finding solutions and the industry keeps on being protective of their solutions for corporate reasons, we’re not going to move forward. We see this with generative AI and the very recent kind of very public statements regarding what the corporate sector wants in terms of regulation.

“I think that we have to create greater collaboration. We absolutely need to create platforms that are structured for collaboration so that they’re no longer accidental or relational in terms of if I have a professional relationship with a colleague, then they’ll listen, right? It should be more systematic. It should be a strategy that universities and higher education and R&D (research and development) centers should have together with the government, to be able to serve the common purpose,” Ben Jaafar said.

“When I look at common purpose, I look at the Sustainable Development Goals because I believe that was what we agreed on, right? We all agreed on those targets. And so we do have this common framework that we’ve agreed on and universities are coming up with solutions. They’re also training the next generation and the current generation because we do have lifelong learning becoming part of just the normative practices. Governments cannot come up with policies without appropriate research, without appropriate data and evidence. And we absolutely need those different stakeholders to work collaboratively,” Ben Jaafar added.

According to Battikh, one hindrance to effective implementation of climate adaptation solutions is the lack of connection between industries, research and development, and universities. He highlighted the importance of establishing platforms that bring together all stakeholders to integrate solutions, theories, and practical applications.

“Talking about climate adaptation or integrating climate adaptation to the curriculum today is a must because we need to come to the reality and face reality that climate change is here and it’s not going away. We need to adapt to it, especially as a region that will suffer from it. I mean, if you think about it, we’re expecting the decline in rainfall to hit 60 percent if we’re above 4 degrees Celsius. Knowing that our agriculture uses more than 80 percent of the water, there will be a big problem,” Battikh said.

Stressing the need to adopt more efficient agricultural practices and water-management strategies, Battikh pointed to the UAE’s exceptionally high water consumption per capita, and emphasized the importance of teaching current and future generations how to employ resources more efficiently.

“We need to adapt to how to do agriculture in a more efficient way, use our water in a more efficient way. The UAE uses like 570 liters of water per person per day, the highest in the world. On average we’re around 178 liters per day. It’s a reality that we need to teach this generation, next generations on how to adapt to climate change,” Battikh added.

There are discrepancies between countries that promote the SDGs but fail to implement governmental policies that reflect those goals. For instance, in the UAE and the GCC region, high water consumption per capita contrasts with the inadequate pricing of water that fails to reflect its true cost. Policy changes, including increased water tariffs, are imperative, but collaboration between organizations, academia, and industry is equally vital, he said.

Battikh illustrated the impact of climate change by highlighting the major drought experienced by Tunisia this year, and that responded by imposing restrictions on tap-water usage for agricultural purposes, car washes, and other activities until September. He criticized such measures for lacking the depth of a comprehensive policy that fosters adaptation or a viable solution. Merely imposing temporary restrictions does not address the underlying issue or provide long-term adaptation strategies. It is crucial to recognize that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a manifestation of a recurring pattern of diminishing rainfall, he said.

While policy measures are essential, Battikh argued that they should not be merely punitive or incentivizing in nature. Rather, they should be the outcome of collaborative efforts between organizations, academia and industry. The complexity and multifaceted nature of climate change and climate adaptation necessitate a holistic approach that considers diverse perspectives and expertise. There is no singular solution that can be universally applied, and it is imperative to acknowledge that addressing climate change and climate adaptation requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort.

Collaboration and financing

He said another critical aspect that demands attention is the financing of climate adaptation in conflict-affected countries. Historically, climate financing commitments made in previous COPs have largely overlooked countries in conflict. However, COP28 presents an opportunity to rectify this oversight. It was imperative to ensure that a portion of the financing dedicated to climate adaptation reaches conflict-affected nations.

“We need to focus on conflict areas, specifically, if you look at the least-developed or least-ready countries for climate change, 14 out of the 25 countries least ready for climate change are in conflict, which represents almost 60 percent. These countries already lack the capacity to adapt to climate change due to ongoing conflicts. The unique setup we have (with the Energy and Water Knowledge Hub) can address these issues. However, we also need to address how we finance climate adaptation in conflict-affected countries,” Battikh said.

While there may be political considerations regarding the distribution of funds, Battikh said that an effective approach could involve leveraging organizations. “We have a setup like the ICRC that is already building these solutions for climate adaptations for countries already in conflicts. So maybe that could be a party that could address that issue. And the fact that we can do that with Grundfos here, because the UAE, for example, is a hub for multinationals, could be a great setup.

“We work with Grundfos from the water perspective, but for the energy we work with Schneider Electric, which is another multinational, whose regional hub in the Middle East is in Dubai. So it’s a great place where we can kind of bring these private-sector players with academia and address them. And have this place as a platform to address these challenges and use COP28 as a platform, for example, for financing of these solutions as a climate adaptation,” Battikh said.

He added that a significant development that signals progress in climate education is the inclusion of an education pavilion at COP28. This pioneering initiative recognizes the importance of education in driving sustainable change and ensuring that climate education is embedded in formal curricula. The Ministry of Education in the UAE deserves credit for taking this step, Ben Jaafar said, as it brings together academia, schools, and other stakeholders under one roof. Such a platform fosters knowledge exchange, collaboration, and the development of innovative solutions to address climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Also, to strengthen the connection between academia and global climate strategies, the appointment of the head of sustainability for the American University of Sharjah as the Education Partnership Coordinator for COP28, was a significant milestone, Battikh added. This role would facilitate the engagement of universities and schools in the COP28 process, ensuring that education plays a crucial role in shaping national and global climate strategies.

Bringing together their distinct areas of expertise, Ben Jaafar and Battikh have produced a report that addresses the urgent need for tailored, regional climate education. They argue, quite convincingly, that by fostering collaboration, integrating education into the curriculum, and prioritizing adaptation efforts, stakeholders can build a sustainable and resilient future in the face of this century’s most compelling environmental challenge.

Russian FM dismisses Ukraine peace plan, slams West in UNGA speech

Russian FM dismisses Ukraine peace plan, slams West in UNGA speech
Updated 58 min 5 sec ago

Russian FM dismisses Ukraine peace plan, slams West in UNGA speech

Russian FM dismisses Ukraine peace plan, slams West in UNGA speech
  • Sergei Lavrov also tells UN General Assembly that Russian troops will help in ‘mutual trust-building’ between Armenia, Azerbaijan

LONDON: Russia’s Foreign Minister said in a speech at the UN General Assembly on Saturday that Russian troops will “certainly” help in rebuilding trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Sergei Lavrov said it was time the dispute between the two countries was settled, adding that Western countries were trying to imposes themselves as mediators, but were not needed.

“Yerevan and Baku actually did settle the situation,” he said. “Time has come for mutual trust-building. There are Russian troops who will certainly help this.”

Russia has peacekeeping missions in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijan launched an offensive this week and where the ethnic Armenian leadership said the terms of their ceasefire with Azerbaijan were being implemented.

Lavrov also said Ukraine’s proposed peace plan in its war with Russia, as well as UN suggestions for reviving the Black Sea Grain Initiative, were “not realistic,” but did not elaborate further on the 19-month conflict.

“It is completely not feasible,” he said of the 10-point peace blueprint promoted by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky. “It is not possible to implement this. It’s not realistic and everybody understands this. But at the same time, they say this is the only basis for negotiations.”

Lavrov criticized the West throughout his speech, and accused it of “fueling conflicts,” “dividing humanity” and “preventing the formation of a genuine multipolar world.”

He called for the expansion of the UN Security Council, which he said was skewed toward preserving Western hegemony.

“(The rest of the planet) don’t want to live under anybody’s yoke anymore,” he said, adding that this was evident by the growth of groups such as BRICS, which recently invited Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to join.

“Our future is being shaped by a struggle, a struggle between the global majority in favor of a fairer distribution of global benefits and civilized diversity, and between the few who wield neo-colonial methods of subjugation in order to maintain their domination which is slipping through their hands,” he said.

“The US and its subordinate Western collective are continuing to fuel conflicts which artificially divide humanity into hostile blocks and hamper the achievement of overall aims. They’re doing everything they can to prevent the formation of a genuine multipolar world order.

“They are trying to force the world to play according to their own self-centered rules,” he said.

China willing to work with South Korea ahead of summit with Japan

China willing to work with South Korea ahead of summit with Japan
Updated 23 September 2023

China willing to work with South Korea ahead of summit with Japan

China willing to work with South Korea ahead of summit with Japan
  • Xi told Han that he welcomes the summit at an opportune time and he will seriously consider the matter of visiting South Korea, Yonhap reported on Saturday

BEIJING: China is willing to work with South Korea to promote a strategic partnership to develop with the times, President Xi Jinping told South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo on Saturday, amid rising tensions surrounding Russia, the United States and North Korea.
Xi held talks with Han in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou before the opening ceremony of the Asian Games, China Central Television reported.
The commitment to cooperation came ahead of scheduled trilateral talks between China, Japan and South Korea in Seoul on Sept. 26, the first summit led by their senior officials in four years.


The commitment to cooperation came ahead of scheduled trilateral talks between China, Japan and South Korea in Seoul on Sept. 26, the first summit led by their senior officials in four years.

Xi told Han that he welcomes the summit at an opportune time and he will seriously consider the matter of visiting South Korea, Yonhap reported on Saturday. A Chinese statement did not mention Xi’s comment on the summit or a visit to Seoul.
China attaches great importance to the positive willingness of South Korea to commit to cooperation, Xi said, and asked South Korea to meet it half way to maintain the direction of friendly cooperation. The two countries can deepen mutually beneficial cooperations, he said.
Tensions between the two East Asian countries rose after North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s weeklong visit to Russia earlier this month, which angered the United States, Japan and South Korea.
South Korea imposed sanctions on 10 individuals and two entities in relation to North Korea’s nuclear program and weapons trade with three countries, including Russia, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.


Indonesia pledges continued support for Palestinian statehood, urges UN to ‘walk the talk’

Indonesia pledges continued support for Palestinian statehood, urges UN to ‘walk the talk’
Updated 23 September 2023

Indonesia pledges continued support for Palestinian statehood, urges UN to ‘walk the talk’

Indonesia pledges continued support for Palestinian statehood, urges UN to ‘walk the talk’
  • ‘For far too long, we’ve allowed our Palestinian brothers and sisters to suffer’: FM tells General Assembly
  • Retno Marsudi also calls for global solidarity with Afghans, especially women and girls

JAKARTA: Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi appealed to the UN General Assembly on Saturday to uphold the principle of sovereignty, as she pledged continued support for Palestinian statehood.
Addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Marsudi referred to its theme of “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity” by highlighting a deep trust deficit in the world today.

“The problem is that we do differently than what we say, we say differently about what we did. We don’t walk the talk,” she said.
“The fate of the world can’t be defined by the mighty few. A peaceful, stable and prosperous world is a collective right and responsibility of all countries — big and small, north and south, developed and developing.”
To achieve this goal, she urged all leaders to “adhere to the same rules of the game” and invoked the spirit of the 1955 Asian-African Conference held in the Indonesian city of Bandung, which was a defining moment in postcolonial history and led to the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The “Bandung Spirit,” or the core principles adopted during the meeting, were political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality.
Palestine is the only country participating in the 1955 Asian-African Conference that has not yet become independent.
“We must uphold respect for international law, particularly the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Marsudi said.
“For far too long, we’ve allowed our Palestinian brothers and sisters to suffer. Indonesia won’t back an inch in our support for Palestinian statehood.”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Indonesian people and authorities see Palestinian statehood as mandated by their own constitution, which calls for the abolition of colonialism. 
In its preamble, the Indonesian constitution says that “independence is the inalienable right of every nation.”
The Southeast Asian nation has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and the Indonesian government has repeatedly called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.
Jakarta has also repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to implement all its resolutions related to Palestine.
As world leaders this week made a political declaration to accelerate action to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty and hunger, empower women and girls, and drive economic prosperity and well-being for all people while protecting the environment by 2030, Marsudi called for equal chances for all to do so.
“Every country has the same right to develop and grow, but the global architecture of today only benefits the selected few,” she said.
“Many developing countries may not meet the SDGs by 2030. They also struggle with foreign debt and development financing. All of this will contribute to eroding trust and solidarity.”
Marsudi also called for global solidarity with Afghans, especially women and girls, whose lives have been significantly restricted since the Taliban came to power in 2021 and barred them, among other things, from secondary and higher education.
“Indonesia will do its utmost to help the Afghan people and ensure the rights of women and girls are respected, including their right to education,” she said.

India enjoying ‘unprecedented’ levels of engagement with KSA

India enjoying ‘unprecedented’ levels of engagement with KSA
Updated 23 September 2023

India enjoying ‘unprecedented’ levels of engagement with KSA

India enjoying ‘unprecedented’ levels of engagement with KSA
  • Saudi crown prince was in India on second state visit earlier this month
  • Dozens of bilateral agreements were signed during the trip

NEW DELHI: Relations between Saudi Arabia and India have reached an unprecedented level of engagement, a top Indian foreign affairs official told Arab News after a flurry of cooperation agreements signed during the Saudi crown prince’s recent visit.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was on a state visit to India, after participating in the G20 Summit in New Delhi earlier this month.

This was his second official trip to New Delhi, following a visit in February 2019, during which Saudi-Indian ties began to see a new level of engagement. In October of that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Riyadh, where the two countries agreed to establish a strategic partnership council to navigate bilateral ties.

The council’s first meeting was held on Sept. 11 and co-chaired by both leaders, who also witnessed the signing of a landmark agreement on energy, including renewable energy cooperation, as well as memoranda on partnerships in digitization and electronic manufacturing, investment, banking, anti-corruption efforts, and seawater desalination.

Dozens of other bilateral deals in entrepreneurship, chemicals, and advanced manufacturing were signed during the Saudi-India Investment Forum on the sidelines of the crown prince’s visit.

“We should give credit to both the crown prince and our Prime Minister Modi for bringing this relationship now to unprecedented levels,” Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, secretary in charge of the Gulf region at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, told Arab News in a recent interview.

Sayeed, who has spent 10 years in Saudi Arabia, serving as New Delhi’s ambassador to Riyadh and earlier as its consul general in Jeddah, has observed over the years how it has been navigating its position as the “biggest player” in the whole region of West Asia, and a “geopolitical power.”

He saw significant potential for India to contribute to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 transformation plan and its ongoing megaprojects such as the multibillion-dollar NEOM smart city.

“There are many ways in which in India can contribute,” he said. “There are many Indian companies that have the technology expertise and international recognition to play a part in the construction of the cities like NEOM and all the projects that are there.”

He estimated that at least 2,700 Indian enterprises have been registered with the Saudi Ministry of Investment and India’s investment in the Kingdom has reached $2.15 billion, with investors interested particularly in the pharma, green hydrogen, renewable energy, IT, and cybersecurity sectors.

“The PM has already discussed with the crown prince the possibility of a start-up bridge. India is one of the biggest ecosystems of startups in the world. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has developed their own very good ecosystem to support startups,” Sayeed said.

“Although we are strategic partners, so many new initiatives are coming. There are ample opportunities, where the potential is not fully utilized yet.”

Ukraine targets a key Crimean city a day after striking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters

Ukraine targets a key Crimean city a day after striking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters
Updated 23 September 2023

Ukraine targets a key Crimean city a day after striking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters

Ukraine targets a key Crimean city a day after striking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters
  • Sevastopol was put under an air raid alert for about an hour after debris from intercepted missiles fell near a pier
  • Loud blasts were also heard near Vilne in northern Crimea, followed by rising clouds of smoke

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday morning launched another missile attack on Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean Peninsula, a Russian-installed official said, a day after an attack on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet that left a serviceman missing and the main building smoldering.
Sevastopol was put under an air raid alert for about an hour after debris from intercepted missiles fell near a pier, Gov. Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on the messaging app Telegram. Ferry traffic in the area was also halted and later resumed.
Loud blasts were also heard near Vilne in northern Crimea, followed by rising clouds of smoke, according to a pro-Ukraine Telegram news channel that reports on developments on the peninsula. Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, has been a frequent target for Ukrainian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in February 2022.
Ukraine’s intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, told Voice of America on Saturday that at least nine people were killed and 16 others wounded as a result of Kyiv’s attack on the Black Sea Fleet on Friday. He claimed that Alexander Romanchuk, a Russian general commanding forces along the key southeastern front line, was “in a very serious condition” following the attack.
Budanov’s claim couldn’t be independently verified, and he didn’t comment on whether Western-made missiles were used in Friday’s attack. The Russian Defense Ministry initially said that the strike killed one service member at the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, but later issued a statement that he was missing.
Ukraine’s military also offered more details about Friday’s attack. It said the air force conducted 12 strikes on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, targeting areas where personnel, military equipment and weapons were concentrated. It said that two anti-aircraft missile systems and four Russian artillery units were hit.
Crimea has served as the key hub supporting Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Sevastopol, the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 19th century, has had a particular importance for navy operations since the start of the war.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks while the brunt of its summer counteroffensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said. Military experts say it is essential for Ukraine to keep up its attacks on targets in Crimea to degrade Russian morale and weaken its military.
In other developments, US President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart at their White House meeting Thursday that the US would give Ukraine a version of the longer-range ATACMS ballistic missiles, without specifying how many or when they would be delivered, according to two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter before an official announcement.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and other Ukrainian leaders have long pushed the US and other Western allies to provide longer-distance weapons that would enable Kyiv to ramp up its strikes behind Russian lines while themselves staying out of firing range.
The US has balked so far, worried that Kyiv could use the weapons to hit deep into Russian territory and escalate the conflict. The Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, could give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from as far away as about 180 miles (300 kilometers), but the US also has other variants of the missile that have a shorter range.
Elsewhere, Ukraine’s military said Saturday that Russia launched 15 Iranian-made Shahed drones at the front-line Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast, as well as Dnipropetrovsk province farther north. It claimed to have destroyed 14 of the drones.
Separately, Zaporizhzhia regional Gov. Yuri Malashko said that Russia over the previous day carried out 86 strikes on 27 settlements in the province, many of them lying only a few kilometers (miles) from the fighting. Malashko said that an 82-year-old civilian was killed by artillery fire.
In the neighboring Kherson region, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said at least one person died and three other people were wounded over the past day because of Russian shelling. Russia fired 25 shells targeting the city of Kherson, which lies along the Dneiper River that marks the contact line between the warring sides, Prokudin said.
Residential quarters were hit, including medical and education institutions, government-built stations that serve food and drinks, as well as critical infrastructure facilities and a penitentiary, he said.