The youth population in the Middle East is projected to peak at 100 million by 2035. 100 million youth will live in a region where sea level rise threatens to wipe the North Cost off of the map in Egypt and affects 90% of agriculture, where drought threatens to eliminate conditions that provide life in Jordan, and where the ecosystems in all countries from the Gulf to the Atlantic, are highly threatened.
This was the powerful context provided by the Arab Youth Climate movement during their side event on Wednesday.
In typical UN lingo, the draft text on Long-Term Cooperative Action “Notes” with grave concern, the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of green house gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely change of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2-1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels.
For 18 year old Merna Ghaly, it means having a world and future to look forward to:
“I want to make sure that if at some point in life I decide to have children, they will have a place to live, a place they could always go back to and not worry whether they would lose it in a flood, a hurricane, or a tsunami.”
In a one-to-one debate with a Saudi government delegate earlier this week, an argument was put forward to me that “As a resource, all Saudi has is Oil”.
This is juxtaposed by civil society groups who declare “We can’t eat or drink oil, and Arabs are more than oil”. It is perhaps no surprise then that there are calls from civil society for Arab governments to put climate change as one of the top political priorities.
The Saudi delegate also went on to argue that “We don’t fully understand the science of climate change impacts on the Gulf”. This is in contrast to the groups who believe in the science that tells us that if we do not start reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming five to eight years, we would not be able to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts.
At a separate side event, a hopeful message was delivered to youth by a lead Bahraini negotiator, Dr Adel Al- Zayani.
“Do not fear, do not have a lot of concerns about what you have read and heard about climate change.. We are not here to deny climate change, but we should have a lot of hope and faith in dealing with it”
“What is occurring, looking back, is not a consequence of todays policies, but of past policies. Historical legacies are why we have reached the current stage that we are in (warning of 4 degrees temperatures rises).”
Though it is precisely today’s policies that led Merna to declare that “If the world keeps going down the same path, we have no future”. Indeed, under current commitments, the emissions gap is such that we are heading for a greater than 2 degree increase in world temperature.
There was acknowledgement by Al Zayani of the precarious position Bahrain finds itself in:
“Bahrain is a small island state and studies show that it is one of the most vulnerable countries of those affected by climate change effects. Reports show that Bahrain will undergo a lot of coastal inundation… and will have to face some of the harshest climate phenomena”
However, as Bahrain seeks to adapt to climate change and to work on short-and-long term mitigation, he still holds the belief that “we should never lose faith”, and wishes to always cooperate on an international level. This message was welcomed by his fellow panelists, who called Al Zayani’s message of hope “powerful and much-needed.”
Through the despair you often find at the UN climate conference, you can also come across islands of hope. By 2035, the Middle East will have 100 Million reasons to be hopeful.
Three demands directed at Arab leaders were called for by youth:
- To live in a world with a stable climate.
- To live in a world below 1.5 degrees.
- To have emissions peak by 2015.
It is only with ambitious actions now that those islands of hope can come together to form continents.