The climate “change” we were all waiting for? Well, it’s here, and the already existing inequalities of the global south will be augmented if steps are not taken toward climate reparations to assist countries in becoming climate resilient.
Climate justice advocates are increasingly calling for rich polluter countries to pay for the irreparable damage caused by climate change. This also includes holding large fossil fuel companies and greenhouse emitters accountable for that damage and the misinformation they have been peddling for years.
Amongst the most vulnerable to the climate crisis are countries in the Middle East and Africa due to being water-scarce, dry regions that depend on climate-sensitive agriculture. At the forefront of these impacted minorities are women and children, for whom these already deeply existing inequalities are further aggravated through the climate emergency.
While there has been a regional focus on implementing solutions to tackle the water, food and energy nexus, there’s still a long way to go and a persistent danger that communities in the region may have to confront climate migration and conflict.
Countries such as Morocco and the UAE, for example, began adapting to and building for climate resilience earlier than others, implementing solar farms, resilient architecture, water conservation techniques, and more. However, the rest of the region is further behind in working toward climate resilience.
Shady A. Khalil, co-founder and managing partner at Cairo-based Greenish, says, “Egypt realized that taking action toward climate change is not a luxurious decision, rather a matter of national security that must be addressed immediately, so they are [starting to] take it seriously.”
Greenish is an Egyptian social enterprise that aims to bring together environmental NGOs, public community, and key government stakeholders to “achieve sustainable development through interactive educational activities, environmental assessment services, and providing support to local communities vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change,” according to their website,
Set to host the upcoming COP27 in November 2022, Egypt has started working on enhancing climate change adaptation in the North Coast and the Nile Delta in order to improve the resilience of rural communities. There is an emphasis on building low-cost infrastructure in various areas including water conservation, soil improvement and protection against desertification.
However, a significant hindrance to these efforts in the region is the lack of accessible research and data. “It’s difficult to acquire data from the region to support these adaptation programs due to many socio-political factors,” says Shady. “But funding and lack of interest also play a role in it. With data comes accountability, so it’s not something people want to invest in.”
One of the main components of addressing climate injustice is making sure climate finance goes where it is needed – which is to the vulnerable communities who need programs specifically designed for their needs.
Mariam Omar, co-director of Greenish, raises the important point that the few existing sustainable solutions will not work for all countries, or in the case of Egypt, all governorates.
“For example, wind turbines are great, but not for Egypt because we are the passage where birds migrate,” she explains. “You have to turn the turbines off when the birds are coming. After investing huge budgets on such a large project, the electricity and energy coming from it might be clean but is actually off eight months of the year.”
Not only this but throughout the region, there is a deep-rooted need to mitigate false information and for communities to be educated on the severity of the issue.
“When we explored public health issues, I was shocked,” says Mariam. “People don’t understand how waste management is intersecting with a lot of things such as public health. A lot of people have liver and kidney issues because of waste.”
Greenish is focused on tackling four main pillars within Egypt: biodiversity, waste management, renewable energy, and education.
“We started creating interactive content that can be replicated anywhere in the region as we can’t physically be present in all these places,” she says. Through their work, they are advocating for people to support vulnerable communities.
Across the globe, gender inequality reduces women’s ability to take part in climate action, as they are left out of the decision-making process and still fighting for structural dynamics that create systems of inequality. They have less access to basic human rights and are more likely to be victims of systematic violence that only escalates during periods of instability.
According to a UN report, “70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 percent of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80 percent), but they own less than 10 percent of the land.”
Climate phenomena have statistically proven to disproportionately affect women to a point that the Paris Climate Agreement went so far as to ensure women receive the support they need to cope. Although any action is yet to be taken, the agreement identified that “achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls (SGD5), will make a crucial contribution to progress across all SDGs, including SDG13 on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”
The climate crisis, like many pressing issues that require quick and active change, remains a fight of the communities, highlighting the marginalization of minorities who are often left out of the conversation yet have to bear the brunt of the consequences.
In recent years, writers, activists and experts have flipped the conversation to focus more on the main contributors to climate change – like fossil fuel companies and powerful economies of the global north – whose rapid industrialization resulted in copious amounts of carbon emissions that led to global warming. Meanwhile, developing countries are in the greatest need of adaptation strategies in the face of the climate crisis.
“We’re at a point where we can’t just lean on building sustainable buildings, we have to start really thinking about resilient building,” says Sudanese sustainability consultant Aza Elnima.
Building for climate resilience involves assessing how we can mitigate damage through industries such as architecture and urban planning. The center for climate and energy solutions defines climate resilience as the “ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate.”
More and more cities and governments are testing new renewable resources and architectural facades that can withstand extreme weather conditions such as storms, heatwaves, and floods.
In a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), adaptation in the region includes measures such as “improving rain harvesting techniques, increase abstraction of groundwater, recycle water, desalinate water, improve its transportation and rationalize its use while also minimizing the need for water and optimizing the economic return.”
“Here in the region, many of the countries started developing not so long ago, compared to others who have been around for 100’s of years,” says environmentalist Rasha Saleh. “We’ve been doing a great job at trying to switch to renewable sources, for example, we have the largest solar park here in Dubai. We are investing and utilizing renewable energy, one of the important ones being solar.”
While there is a need for accountability on a larger scale, conversations need to begin at the grassroots level, which includes the individual. Rasha’s platform Enta Green encourages people to look at the problem at an individual level.
“Climate change is not a simple switch that can be flipped but is an issue we must all take the time to understand. While it’s easy to be nonchalant about climate change in our day-to-day luxuries, it is an imminent reality that we will all have to face,” Rasha adds.
Globally, climate refugees are increasing as the conditions worsen in the face of pandemics, political unrest, and war. Alongside this, the rate at which capitalism still promotes mass consumption is beyond detrimental as it fails to account for the environmental cost.
The Glasgow COP26 concluded with a few agreements that on the surface felt like hope, but the final 850-page document had no mentions of completely phasing out fossil fuels, without which the target of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C in the next nine years is rendered impossible.
The reality is that our generations can no longer afford to hope, rather we must actively undo and make space for radical change that addresses not why and how we let it get this bad, but how we can halt the damage that continues to affect those who are the least responsible for it.