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Environment in the Kuwait Arab Summit

By Najib Saab, Issue 131, February 2009

The environment, which was absent from the speeches of Arab leaders in the Kuwait socio-economic and development summit, appeared in the final declaration of the summit. Kings and presidents have endorsed the final declaration written during the preparatory meetings, and included themes that find their way for the first time into Arab summits.

The "Kuwait Declaration" considered environmental protection and best use of natural resources two major conditions for development, while recommending to "minimizing the impacts of climate change and its implications on Arab societies." In the executive plan, the summit recommends the development of institutions, legislation and policies to protect Arab environment and enhancing the roles of public and civil environmental agencies and supporting environmental media.

The declaration committed to develop renewable energy resources, especially solar energy, and supporting the required research for its development. It is noteworthy that the declaration supported the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity while a lot of nuclear countries are reconsidering their own programmes and decommissioning existing nuclear plants for environmental safety considerations.

The Kuwait Declaration emphasized the need for developing a strategy for Arab water security, while the executive programme called for water use efficiency and enhancing irrigation systems and reuse of treated wastewater and developing conventional and non-conventional water resources, including new and effective technologies for sea water desalination.   

The action plan called for "regulating urban planning and limiting the growth of urban slums," but it neglected the systematic dredging of coastal areas for the purpose of urban coastal expansion for tourism purposes, and did not mention green building schemes that adapt to local natural conditions and environmental regulations. The action plan did emphasize on the integrated management of wastes, and called for enhanced capacity building in response to environmental crises and emergencies.

It is a progressive step for the summit declaration to include such environmental principles, although most of them remained in the realm of generalities. It is noted that the action plan has adopted the majority of recommendations that resulted from the annual conference of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) that was held in Bahrain last October, while it left out on some vital issues.

We would have hoped for the summit to adopt allocating more efforts and financial and human resources for monitoring the state of the environment and establishing databases that contain credible information including the creation of early warning systems about drought cycles and water scarcity. This requires the allocation of adequate budgets for supporting scientific research in environmental issues at the national and regional levels. The declaration also missed to tackle the issues of desertification, marine pollution and the protection of coastal environment. Moreover it did not call for the adoption of cleaner production technologies when discussing industrial development and failed to mention the impacts of wars and hostilities on Arab environment.

While the declaration mentioned the need to mainstream environment in developmental planning, it neglected to emphasize the need to use market mechanisms and the use of ecological accounting and all types of strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessment for projects. What is required now is to benefit from the current economic slowdown to reconsider some mega programmes and projects that have neglected the environmental impacts and launch an "Arab Green Economy Initiative" with the participation of governments, private sector and civil society.

We were hopeful that the rhetoric of environmental commitments would be reflected in the speeches of Arab leaders and not only in the final declaration. It is really unfortunate that the weight of the word "environment" is still heavy on the tongues of Arab leaders, and is still considered a "second grade" issue left only for consultants and blocked from the high-level political statements.

Even though, the summit declaration is still an important step forward. The implementation, however, remains to be seen. The objectives should not remain ink on paper, and it is important that the Kuwait declaration should not be added to the "supermarket of Arab declarations".

The enhancement of the conditions of the Arab environment will not occur unless the political will is secured at the highest levels of leadership in the Arab World. We hope that the Kuwait step forward will be the initiation of this pathway.

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.
Environmental Agenda
Environment in Arab Media
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