Preparing for climate change

Climate change was the subject of a training workshop held for journalists and media professionals in Alexandria recently. The workshop was organised by the Environmental Affairs Authority’s Low Emission Capacity Building Programme in Egypt (LECBPE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Egyptian Writers on the Environment Association. It discussed the threat of climate change to Egypt caused by the emissions of greenhouses gases and the subsequent heating of the planet.

“The Ministry of the Environment is currently running a project to develop national capacities to decrease greenhouse gas emissions,” Khaled Fahmi, the minister of the environment, said. “The project is part of an international programme taking place in 25 countries, including China, Argentina, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco.” Fahmi added that the programme was managed by UNDP offices in each participating country with funds from the European Union and the German and Australian governments.

“Until 1900, the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – the three gases mainly responsible for climate change – was still within the normal range,” declared Samir Tantawi, head of LECBPE at the Ministry of the Environment. “This changed after the industrial revolution. In addition, the lack of data in developing countries later led to a time gap between calculating emissions and delivering reports to the international bodies concerned,” he added.

“Egypt’s three reports, presented to the UN secretariat of the Paris Agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], indicated increasing rates of global warming,” Tantawi said.

Khaled Mubarak, head of the Egyptian Writers on the Environment Association, said that “journalists writing on environmental affairs should be fully aware of climate change and its resulting challenges as well as efforts to adapt to the changing climate in the fields of transportation, agriculture, industry, biodiversity and marine resources.”

Climate change

He added that the near future will witness drastic changes in the way climate change is dealt with internationally. On the national level, the Ministry of the Environment, together with NGOs, will work towards raising awareness of the environmental hazards associated with climate change and achieving sustainable development.

Adapting to climate change in the agricultural sector requires ending poverty and food shortages, declared Ayman Abu Hadid, a former minister of agriculture. “This will not materialise without developing the agricultural sector and achieving self-sufficiency,” he added. Abu Hadid said one way to do this was to pay more attention to technical, rather than university, education, because such graduates would be more capable of increasing agricultural production.

Dehydration is one result associated with climate change. “It could lead to dehydration levels reaching anywhere between one to 28 per cent, like in Kuwait. In Egypt, dehydration stands at 1.3 per cent, so it is not really a problem. But the individual’s share of water has already decreased from 5,000 cubic metres to 500 cubic metres annually over the last century.”

The use of electricity by households should also be rationalised, since 43 per cent of Egypt’s electricity production goes to households, said Anhar Hegazi, an expert on energy, sustainable development and climate change and former executive deputy director of the UN Economic and Social Committee for Western Asia. She said there should be greater public awareness of the importance of rationalising electricity consumption and that households should use sources of energy other than electricity. Diversifying energy sources is one of Egypt’s 2030 Vision goals.

Climate change and the Renaissance Dam constitute a threat to Egypt

Of its nine petroleum refineries, Egypt has already reconstructed six, which means that the country could further benefit from its natural resources, Hegazi added. Numbers released in 2013-2014 indicated that the country used 86.2 million tons of energy resources, 95 per cent of which were natural gas and petroleum, the remaining five per cent being water and coal.

Due to climate change, parts of the Nile Delta will likely suffer from inundation as a result of rising sea levels. Mohamed Suleiman, head of the Coastal Studies Institute at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, explained that “the Mohamed Ali Wall in Abu Qir in Alexandria has prevented coastal erosion in that area and protected many buildings. But it is expected in the next 100 years that temperatures will rise by 1-5 degrees, which will result in a 1.5 metre increase in water levels.”

Suleiman said that “a project to protect the Delta coast in Kafr Al-Sheikh extending for 67km is currently in the works with a LE30 million grant from the Green Climate Fund affiliated to the UNFCCC. The project was inspired in its low-cost methods by nature and depends on building sand dykes using plastic bottles containing tubes filled with sand, clay and water on stable land to protect it from rising water levels. The ministry has already successfully constructed dykes to a height of one metre and a width of eight metres to protect the Kafr Al-Sheikh coasts.”

The project helps protect another area nearby that is slated by the governorate of Kafr Al-Sheikh to be a new city that can accommodate millions of Egyptians. This area extends for 60km near the Mediterranean coast. The city of Borrollos was being prepared for tourist investment and will have a promenade called “Egypt’s People”, Suleiman said.

Climate change and the Renaissance Dam constitute a threat to Egypt

“Areas lower than sea level are prone to inundation, as happens in some areas on the North Coast when they are hit by storms,” Suleiman added.

Deforestation and increasing emissions of carbon dioxide will lead to an increase in the Earth’s temperature and the melting of the ice at the two poles, he said, leading to rising sea levels on a global scale.

Hamed Qarqar, an expert on transportation and climate change, said that the transportation sector had taken the lead in decreasing emissions. “The underground metro in Cairo has been one of Egypt’s most successful projects over the past 50 years because it transports large numbers of people, decreasing the number of vehicles and consequently their emissions.”

“It is expected by 2021, after the four lines of the underground metro have been completed, that 900,000 tons of petroleum can be saved, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 206 million tons annually,” he added.

However, there were still too many private cars and other vehicles in Egypt, “which result in more consumption of fuel and the emission of more greenhouse gases. The transportation infrastructure has to be upgraded along with vehicles that should be better maintained, and the country should abide by international standards on the maximum emissions allowed,” Qarqar said.

At the workshop Dalia Sakr, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on industries and climate change, said that in Japan the names of those who do not abide by the law and violate environmental regulations are published, indicating the country’s feeling of responsibility to preserve the environment for the future.

China, she said, is one of the world’s biggest consumers of steel, fuel and cement, but to ensure a better future for its citizens it had brought in experts to advise on environmental policy. These had said that China “cannot properly develop with such a huge amount of pollution.” It was then, she added, that China had decided to recycle its waste.

“For Egypt to compete on an international level, it has to have a strategy based on scientific research. It is no shame to benefit from others’ experiences,” Sakr said.

With this in mind, later this year Egypt will host an international conference on biodiversity in Sharm El-Sheikh. “Biodiversity differs from one country to another. Egypt has vast areas of desert land, but we have largely failed to make use of them because of problems related to pollution, climate change and the over-consumption of resources,” commented Mustafa Fouda, an advisor to the minister of the environment.

As far as nuclear energy is concerned, “Egypt will enter the nuclear age in 2030 by choosing six locations other than Dabaa to build nuclear power stations,” said Maher Aziz, an expert on energy and climate change. “Egypt should diversify its energy sources. By 2035 we want to reach a 42 per cent blend of new and renewable sources of energy, using solar and wind power particularly. However, the coal Egypt uses as an energy source is clean, and there are no fears about using it,” he said.

Diaaeddin Al-Qoussi, a former counsellor to the minister of irrigation, believed that there were still hopes that the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia could be stopped, adding that Egypt still had many cards to play.

“Negotiations on the dam have gone through two phases: the technical phase, dubbed the Nile Basin Initiative, and the political phase handled by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in which he promised unprecedented cooperation,” he explained. Nevertheless, thus far the negotiations have failed.

“Now we are studying taking the Dam to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the UN Security Council. Earlier, the Nile Basin countries communicated on a personal basis, exchanging expertise and cooperation missions. After negotiations failed in 2009, Egypt and Sudan have stood alone in the face of the 10 other Nile Basin countries, however,” Al-Qoussi said.

With its growth of population, Egypt is also threatened with water shortages that could be exacerbated by climate change. Current production of drinking water stands at 11 billion cubic metres. “The Jonglei Canal project in Sudan should be revived. Work started there in 1978 and halted two years later because of the civil war in the country. Only three per cent of the project was finished,” Al-Qoussi added.

The importance of the Jonglei Canal lies in the fact that it could deliver all its water to the main branch of the Nile. “Throughout the year, rain accumulates to an amount of some 60 billion cubic metres, which is then divided. The water in the River Nile could be increased by water from the canal,” Al-Qoussi explained.

He said that if pressure was not exerted to stop the building of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, more dams could be built and Egypt’s share of the Nile water would be reduced.

“However, Egypt should also resort to greater desalination to increase its freshwater resources, whether the Ethiopian Dam is a threat or not. Climate change has shifted rain from the poorer south to the richer north, and we have to be prepared,” he said.

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