How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
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The Dumat Al Jandal Wind Farm in Jouf province, the first and largest of its kind in Saudi Arabia, became operation in 2022, with 99 turbines producing 400 MW of electricity. (Photo courtesy: Vision2030)
How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
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The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE leveraging renewables and environmental policies to protect future growth and prosperity
  • Without action now, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity

RIYADH/DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crossroads. As temperatures rise, water scarcity intensifies and desertification spreads, the region’s immense economic potential is at risk unless bold action is taken.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have been taking steps to adopt sources of renewable energy, not only to meet their own commitments to slashing carbon emissions, but to take a lead in the global energy transition.




The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)

This adoption of renewables has come hand in hand with a broader regional push to diversify economies away from oil, invest in carbon capture, storage and utilization, and roll out policies designed to protect natural habitats and expand green spaces.

There is a lot at stake for the MENA region, which is viewed as being uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Indeed, several studies suggest parts of the region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity.

In November and December last year, Dubai hosted the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at which states agreed to a historic set of measures to stop average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.




People walk outside Expo City in Dubai on December 12, 2023 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28. (AFP)

The agreement called for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner ... so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

It also called for the creation of a fund to help vulnerable countries pay for climate-related damage, and the publication of landmark assessments on the world’s progress in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, it called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, the speeding up of efforts to reduce coal use, and the adoption of technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization.

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Although not all nations were satisfied with the text of the deal, it did mark an important step forward, building on the ambitions laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Paris headquarters of the International Energy Agency on Feb. 20, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber said that meeting the goals agreed under the “UAE Consensus” would require “unprecedented action” by global stakeholders.

“Solidarity overcame polarization, inclusivity prevailed over finger-pointing and the spirit of partnership brought the best of humanity together,” he said of the COP28 summit.

“To keep this spirit alive and build on the momentum achieved at COP28, the UAE Consensus set a new direction and a clear course correction. We must now turn an unprecedented agreement into unprecedented action. Now is the time for all stakeholders to step up.”




COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber is seen on a screen as he speaks during a high-level round table on COP energy and climate commitments organized by the International Energy Agency at its headquarters in Paris on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

While many Western nations appear to be rolling back their climate commitments, the Middle East and North Africa region has risen to the challenge.

One bold example of this is the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 to protect the Kingdom’s environment, conserve wildlife, and plant billions of trees, while enabling sustainable economic growth.

 

 

“Since its inception, SGI has implemented a range of initiatives to protect and conserve the Kingdom’s vital ecosystems,” Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, told Arab News.




Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha

“For example, the National Greening Program, which is driving nationwide tree-planting efforts across Saudi Arabia and is underpinned by two key guiding principles: firstly, maintaining ecosystem balance, and secondly, utilizing renewable water resources.

“The program follows a nature-based regeneration approach to allow its ecosystems to flourish over time.”

Faqeeha said several dedicated initiatives under the SGI are being actioned to protect biodiversity hotspots through the designation of protected areas.

“SGI also aims to promote sustainability by raising awareness and reducing the adverse impact of economic sectors on the ecosystems, driving all these efforts by engaging all relevant stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors,” he said.




Saudi Arabia's National Greening Program has been in full swing since 2021. (SPA)

Other significant steps the Kingdom has taken to safeguard biodiversity include the establishment of a dedicated national environmental framework, underpinned by the National Environment Law.

Several agencies have been established to carry out this work, including the National Center for Wildlife, National Center for Vegetation Cover, National Center for Environmental Compliance, and the National Center for Waste Management.

Under his ministry’s oversight, Faqeeha said these agencies “regulate and monitor critical environmental domains linked to biodiversity conservation, such as terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems, land and vegetation cover, environmental media, waste management, (and) underscore the commitment to biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom.”

The picture is similar in the UAE. Under the General Environment Policy of 2021, authorities are working to preserve ecosystems, promote diversification and economic prosperity, integrate climate change and biodiversity considerations into various sectors, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.




Keeping its marine waters constantly clean is part the UAE's sustainability goals. (Supplied)

All these plans are crucial if countries in the Middle East and North Africa region hope to address the effects of climate change, which are already impacting precipitation patterns, causing water scarcity and harming agriculture, thereby threatening livelihoods and food security.

In the Gulf states, in particular, climate change is already contributing to an increase in the salinity of groundwater. According to a report by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Gulf water supplies will come under additional strain over the next 20 years due to the region’s booming population and the scarcity of rainfall.

Officials in these countries believe it is therefore critical to plan now in order to mitigate and adapt to these challenges if they are to protect future growth and prosperity.

 


Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
Updated 22 min 57 sec ago
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Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
  • Iran-backed group takes confrontations to new level, directly targets soldiers
  • Hezbollah said operation was a ‘response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon’

BEIRUT: The Iran-backed Hezbollah launched on Wednesday “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” as it targeted the Israeli army south of the border with Lebanon.

The group claimed responsibility for the operation, saying that “it is in response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon.”

Israeli media outlets announced that “a kamikaze drone struck an Israeli army gathering in Arab Al-Aramshe, western Galilee, resulting in six casualties, at least.”

They added: “An Israeli army helicopter was hit while rescuing the injured in Arab Al-Aramshe.”

The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya said that it had received 14 injured people.

Hezbollah has adopted new tactics of late. According to a security source, these “were seen last week, when it (Hezbollah) detonated explosive devices targeting Israeli soldiers on the border, injuring four Golani Brigade members.”

The source added that Hezbollah “has taken the confrontations to another level by directly targeting Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli forces launched immediate retaliation by bombing and targeting phosphorus bombs on the border area.

This region included the outskirts of Rachaya Al-Fekhar, Fardis, Al-Habbariyeh, Alma Al-Shaab, Dhahira, Marwahin, and Yarin, as well as the city of Nabatieh, where a house belonging to the Sayyed family was destroyed.

No casualties were reported in the incidents, but the border region has witnessed the Israeli military’s dramatic targeting and killing of two key figures.

Hezbollah is mourning the death of Ismail Youssef Baz, a senior commander of the organization, while the Amal Movement — an ally of Hezbollah — has been coming to terms with the death of Hussein Qasim Karsht.

Israeli media reported that Baz, who was killed in his car following a drone attack, was “the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal sector.”

It added: “He was working on promoting and planning the launching of rockets and anti-tank missiles toward Israel from the Lebanese coastline. During this ongoing war, he organized and planned to carry out various plans against Israel.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
Updated 17 April 2024
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.
While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.
“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added
Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.
In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.
Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.
Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.
It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.
The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.
Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”
“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.
“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.
Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.
“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.
Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”
The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.
Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.
This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.

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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo
Updated 17 April 2024
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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo
  • Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Russia’s spy chief Sergei Naryshkin, and his accompanying delegation, in Cairo
  • Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hosted Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin and his accompanying delegation in Cairo.

The meeting was attended by the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel.

Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions.

Ahmed Fahmy, presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi and Naryshkin also discussed a number of African issues, counterterrorism efforts and the latest developments in the international arena, especially in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

They reviewed Egypt’s efforts to quell regional tensions. El-Sisi highlighted Egypt’s vision regarding the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave. The Egyptian leader called for fundamental steps to defuse regional tensions.

Egypt also supports a just and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue, and the establishment of the Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, El-Sisi said.

The two sides reiterated their commitment to coordination based on longstanding historical ties.

On April 11, El-Sisi spoke to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer via telephone.

The Egyptian leader highlighted the importance of the international community preventing military escalation in Gaza and a humanitarian catastrophe.

He warned of the “extreme danger” of regional escalation, which “threatens the security and stability” of the Middle East.

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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
Updated 17 April 2024
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
  • Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives
  • Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said its forces destroyed on Tuesday two drones fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia, the latest round of skirmishes between the US-led marine coalition and the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On Tuesday morning, the Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. It was determined the UAVs presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement on X on Wednesday morning.

The Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah on Tuesday but provided no information about the targeted locations or if they caused any human or property damage.

Since November, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Gulf of Aden, claiming to be acting in sympathy with Palestinians. In response to the Houthi attacks, the US formed a coalition of marine forces to defend the Red Sea and launched hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, and other Yemeni areas under Houthi control.

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Qatar re-evaluating its role as mediator in Gaza ceasefire talks

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 28 min 28 sec ago
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Qatar re-evaluating its role as mediator in Gaza ceasefire talks

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
  • Sheikh Mohammed underscored on Wednesday that the role of mediator has limits: “(Mediators) cannot provide things that the parties themselves refrain from (offering)”
  • Qatari PM said talks on Gaza ceasefire and a release of hostages were at a “delicate phase”

DOHA: Qatar is re-evaluating its role as mediator in ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, citing concerns that its efforts are being undermined by politicians seeking to score points, its prime minister said on Wednesday.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is also foreign minister, said there was a “misuse of this mediation for narrow political interests, and this necessitated Qatar to undertake a full evaluation of this role.”
Sheikh Mohammed did not identify any politicians by name.
Qatar’s embassy in Washington on Tuesday criticized comments made by US Democratic congressman Steny Hoyer, in which he called on the US to “reevaluate” its relationship with Qatar.
Hoyer said on Monday that Qatar must threaten Hamas with “repercussions” if the militant Palestinian group “continues to block progress toward releasing the hostages and establishing a temporary ceasefire.”
Some other US lawmakers have suggested in recent months that Qatar supports Hamas, an accusation rejected by the Gulf state, which hosts some 10,000 US troops, the largest US military presence in the Middle East.
Sheikh Mohammed underscored on Wednesday that the role of mediator has limits: “(Mediators) cannot provide things that the parties themselves refrain from (offering).”
Earlier on Wednesday Sheikh Mohammed said the talks on a Gaza ceasefire and a release of hostages were at a “delicate phase.”
“We are trying as much as possible to address this stumbling block,” he added, without giving further details.
Qatar’s premier also condemned what he described as a policy of “collective punishment” being pursued by Israel in its war in Gaza against Hamas as well as the latest escalation of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The ceasefire discussions, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, are being held against the backdrop of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where Palestinians are suffering severe shortages of food, medicine and other essentials.
The war was triggered when Hamas attacked southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages into the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has retaliated by pounding Gaza in an air and ground offensive which has killed almost 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. 

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