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Who is responsible for the climate issue?

Abdel Monem Said

Published: Updated:

One year from now, the COP27 climate change conference will be held in Egypt, providing an opportunity for the Egyptian state to acquire balanced knowledge of one of the most important issues of our times, which—notwithstanding its extreme importance— is the subject of deep-seated differences between major countries. The issue of climate change and the threats it poses to the globe, in terms of global warming over more than two centuries of industrial revolutions and their byproducts, may seem like a scientific issue more suited to scientists to research and ascertain its outcomes.

The issue is also part of the greater ongoing worldwide globalization process, where various issues—including those associated with the environment—now affect the entire world, as we saw unfold over the past two years with the Covid-19 pandemic which touched every corner of the world. However, the issue—from a scientific and environmental standpoint—is undisputable, given the scientific proofs of the danger posed by climatic transformations to countries around the world, in terms of fires, hurricanes, floods, and even the inundation of island nations, and in terms of the direct effects they bode for human health as a result of heat and drought, and the indirect effects to the negative impact on food resources in particular.

But over the past three decades, the issue has taken on political dimensions revolving around assuming responsibility for the climate crisis and the damage it causes as a result of carbon emissions from various industries. Advanced industrialized nations have become increasingly inclined to place the burden of the crisis on countries that produce fossil fuels. In the global media, Western civil society, and in various parliaments of the West, the burden of the crisis is increasingly placed on Arab oil-producing countries, especially those in the Arabian Gulf.

All of this is happening despite the evidence unveiled during the previous COP conferences that only three countries, namely China, the United States and India, in addition to a number of other industrialized nations, are responsible for 53 percent of the total carbon emissions polluting the global environment. China accounts for 27 percent of global emissions and 9.8 billion tons of carbon, the US 15 percent and 5.3 billion tons, and India 6.8 percent and 2.5 billion tons.

Shifting the blame to oil-producing countries in general is misleading to a large extent, because it looks at the global supply of oil while completely ignoring the demand created by nations that harbor high-polluting industries. These nations have relied on the most polluting type of energy, i.e. coal, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially with the rise of various modes of transportation, from ships to cars and aircraft, all the way to various forms of pesticides that contaminate agriculture and harm human beings. So the vilification of oil-producing nations is based on a number of facts that are either ignored or overlooked without proof or evidence, and entails scandalous malintent.

First of all, despite the presence of a remarkable proportion of global oil and gas production in Arab countries and in the Gulf region in particular, the largest proportion of global production is located in remote regions, as both the United States and Russia are at the forefront of global production, and if we add Mexico and Canada into the mix, alongside a handful of other countries, it transpires that the responsibility is global par excellence.

Second, the undeniable fact is that from 1750 up until 2019, the carbon emissions that affected the global environment were produced by Europe at 32.6 percent, Asia 31.5 percent, North America 29.2 percent, Africa 2.9 percent, South America 2.6 percent, whereas the remainder was produced by the rest of the world, including the Arab countries that produce oil and gas.

Third, the responsibility for emissions lies not only with oil-producing countries, but is also attributed to different forms of energy. When Brazil began to rely on biofuel, its climate effects and the impact on the desertification of the Amazon rainforest were no less compared to other regions. In fact, the dependence of many countries on coal for power generation, being the most polluting energy source, such as China and even the United States and other countries in Europe, prompted the parties convening in Glasgow to set a ceiling for the complete elimination of coal as an energy source. In Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where the next climate conference is due to be held, it will be necessary to assess how far this recommendation has come in terms of implementation.

Fourth, Arab oil-producing countries cannot fall within the scope of the current accumulation of carbon in the global climate, since they only entered into manufacturing stages in the last few decades of the twentieth century, and when they did, they—especially in the United Arab Emirates—restricted emission rates on the one hand, and committed to moving forward with environmentally-safe renewable energy sources. Fifth, is that some Arab countries have committed themselves to achieving net-zero carbon emissions, with Saudi Arabia setting 2060 as a deadline for this, while the UAE and Bahrain announced 2050 as their target for the same. Moreover, several Arab countries have committed to conducting scientific research in the areas of decarbonization of fossil energy, while other countries, such as Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have made pioneering attempts to establish new cities as a model for clean solar energy.

Sixth, and this perhaps sums up the most important Arab positions expressed at the Glasgow conference, is that the world cannot deny the role played by Arab countries in the development of the global economy during the past decades, and the pressing calls on Arab oil-producing countries to maintain the global economy’s composure and growth, especially after the coronavirus crisis has begun to recede, spurring the global economy’s pursuit of growth and energy, while blame is being cast on these countries and demands that they curtail their production.

This would be disastrous for the global post-crisis economy, but preserving the global environment will require taking courageous steps in the direction of ceasing the use of coal, shifting away from energy-intensive industries, expanding the availability of green technology, and most importantly, helping developing countries to adopt environmentally friendly manufacturing through an international fund to finance these transformations. The truth is that the idea of the fund is not new, as it has been previously recommended, but putting it into practice necessitates proposing the recommendation again.

Here the Egyptian example in recent years is a testament to the major transformations taking place in the Egyptian economy towards a green economy and clean energy applications. Yet another Arab country that is becoming a pioneer in this field, whether in terms of encouraging scientific research or by investing domestically and abroad in environmentally friendly domains; and now the time has come for Western and industrialized nations to play their part in this respect.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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