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Threats and opportunities unite us

Shamshad Akhtar's picture

As a show of solidarity in the lead up to Cancun, a Mediterranean Climate Change Initiative (MCCI) was launched in the coastal town of Vouliagmeni, near Athens this past week. Fifteen member countries signed a declaration that binds them to work together on climate change. To take this initiative forward, an expert group is to meet in Malta in the coming months─it will be followed by a second MCCI event in Turkey.

 

Such solidarity is important. While not among the worse polluters in the world, the Mediterranean countries face an increase of four degrees in average temperature, and a 70% drop in precipitation in the coming years.

 

I participated in this event and shared the World Bank’s position and perspective. I was struck by the high level of commitment and the cooperative spirit of the host of the meeting; Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, was joined by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, Malta’s Premier Lawrence Gonzi, and other representatives of the Mediterranean countries.

 

This initiative , in some sense, is an historic event. Abandoning political differences, the Prime Ministerial commitments and the time devoted to provide national and regional perspectives, is commendable.

 

Delegates echoed the broad consensus regarding the magnitude and severity of the climate change problem and the cross border implications of the environmental degradation it will cause. A recent World Bank study has shown that warming in the Middle East region is about 50% higher than average global warming. Many of the largest cities in the region are located on the coast and are vulnerable to both sea-level rise and increases in extreme weather events─particularly Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, and the UAE.

 

Delegates shared their experiences and efforts. Prime Minister Papandreou stated that about 45 billion Euros for green infrastructure investments are expected in Greece by 2015.

 

The Mediterranean Climate Change Initiative is timely. While the International Community struggles for a global deal on climate change, there is a lot that can be done around the world and in the Mediterranean.  Over the 2005-2010 period, the World Bank has devoted over half of its funding within the Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, to climate-relevant sectors, to help the adaptation and mitigation agenda. Under adaptation, the World Bank is working to promote low-carbon water desalination and reuse of wastewater by applying experiences gained in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the region among others.

 

The potential for mitigation in the region is high, as MENA, despite its large fossil fuel potential, has large tracts of land ideally suited to tap solar and wind power. Regional concentrated solar power (CSP) programs intend to accelerate the global adoption of this technology by utilizing the unique characteristics of the MENA region—ample sun and proximity to high paying markets in Europe where demand for green electricity is growing. To facilitate trade in “green electricity,” the EU, and others are being tapped to both launch countrywide CSP projects and to nurture regional cooperation for establishing suitable grid interconnections.

 

Regional cooperation, through the sharing of knowledge, technology and innovation, both at the North-South and South-South levels, will facilitate cost effective adaptation and will promote mitigation and green business opportunities. The reality is, the MCCI was borne out of a need to collaborate to face both, the threats and opportunities that climate change presents to the region. As George Papandreou said, “Threats unite us” and success will depend on carrying this political commitment to the next logical step─action and implementation.