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Green Economy: From Ban Ki-moon to Fuheid Al-Sharif

Green Economy: From Ban Ki-moon to Fuheid Al-Sharif

By: Najib Saab
July 2009

"Were you the one who wrote that speech?" My son enquired after we listened to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's graduation speech to the class of 2009 at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. William, who graduated with a degree in energy and environment policies, was taken by surprise with the high environmental tone of the Secretary General, compared to the usually subdued international statements meant to please everybody, while saying nothing. 

The current global financial and economic turmoil is a genuine wake-up call that requires shakeup of the old development patterns, said Ban Ki-moon as he called for a new green deal that invests in clean and renewable energy resources. "By investing in green, we create jobs and spur economic growth. At Copenhagen, we need to unleash green investment and jump-start a lasting economic recovery. "

Moreover, the Secretary General urged governments, companies and individuals to take effective steps to safeguard the planet: use public transport systems, recycle wastes, plant trees, make companies accountable for their environmentally damaging practices and ask your representatives in government to strike a historic deal in the Copenhagen Climate Change conference.

This candid language that asks for the halting of savage development patterns is new to the head of the UN, as until recently it has been confined to staunch environmental organizations. However, Ban Ki-moon has shown an unprecedented commitment. In fact, the Green Economy Initiative launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) last year was not destined to such acclaim without the support of the highest authority at the international organization. Apparently this initiative has succeeded in turning the economic crises into an environmental blessing, as many countries have allocated a reasonable percentage of their economic incentive packages to green economy programmes. Here are a few examples: South Korea, Ban Ki-moon's home country, has allocated 80% of economic incentives to green economy, while China allocated 38%, the USA 25% and Germany 12%.

Governments are now convinced that allocating resources to green economy is not a luxury, but an option which stimulates growth and creates jobs as well. In the USA it is envisaged that a new $100 billion programme for energy efficiency in buildings and towns will create two million new job opportunities within 4 years. On another front, the market for organic agriculture has increased from $15 billion in 1999 to $50 billion in 2008, creating enormous job opportunities, being a labor-intensive activity- an ideal option for unemployed agricultural labor in many parts of the Arab region.

Apart from renewable energy, retro-fitting for energy efficiency, organic and sustainable agriculture, the Arab countries can invest in countless sectors in order to create new job opportunities within a green economy, such as water management and ecotourism. About 50 million citizens in the Arab countries currently lack access to clean drinking water resources and 100 million lack access to water needed for proper sanitation. The World Bank estimates that Arab countries need to invest up to $200 billion until 2020 in water management. Such investments can enhance environmental conditions and create new job opportunities that the Arab countries badly need, knowing that 25% of young people below 30 years old and 17% of the total workforce are currently unemployed.

The wave of green economy that has started to disperse globally, from the USA, to the UK, Korea and China is starting to hit the Arab World. The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) has finished last month the first series of workshops in seven countries in partnership with UNEP for the launch of the Arab Green Economy Initiative, with the participation of the private sector and public and civil organizations. National committees that emerged within this process will recommend programmes to the annual AFED conference in November 2009, paving the way for real action.

At the time of writing this article, Fuheid Al-Sharif, Governor of Saudi Arabia's General Corporation for Water Desalination, has called in a statement for the ‘nationalization' of desalination technology and its associated equipment: "It is not logical that we own the biggest desalination plant in the world and are the greatest producer of desalinated water, while we are still importing the technology and equipment entirely, at a time when we have all the opportunities and capabilities for locally developing all of those."

This is only one of the many fields of productive investment in green economy, that meets the real needs of the region, while supporting the national economy and creating hundreds of thousands of job opportunities.

The world is changing to the better, governed by the will to survive. As we welcome the statements of Ban Ki-moon about green economy, we are more thrilled with the statement of the head of Saudi Desalination Corporation that reflects the spirit of the recommendations from the AFED annual Conference for capacity building in desalination technologies and local production of equipment and spare parts.

Can we imagine how many millions of job opportunities and how much billions of dollars can be gained from the use of the sun in the Arab world to desalinate water or produce hydrogen from sea water and export it pressurized as clean energy?

The USA has committed for the first time in Bonn last month to reduce Carbon dioxide emissions by 17% in 2020, compared to 2005 levels. Concurrently, the EU countries have committed to reduce emissions by 20% with promises from both sides to increase the ceilings of reduction, if China and India join the system. This approach is an indicator of a complete new phase, ushering a historical deal on climate change in Copenhagen next December.  

With Barrack Obama and Ban Ki-moon, we should be witnessing a new era in international cooperation on climate change not witnessed before. Countries which choose to stay on the sidelines will be left behind.

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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