Hundreds of delegates from across the Arab region gathered in the historic Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel in Beirut at the end of November to discuss the Arab region’s Ecological Footprint and strategies to chart a sustainable future.
The Arab Forum for Environment and Development’s (AFED) two-day annual conference drew over 500 delegates from nearly 50 countries, including ministers, diplomats, academics and representatives from the civil and private sector. The study at the heart of this year’s conference, “Survival Options: Ecological Footprint of Arab Countries,” was released in partnership with Global Footprint Network, and is the most comprehensive survey of the condition of the Arab region’s natural environment to date. It includes the Arab Atlas of Footprint and Biocapacity, with profiles for 22 Arab nations and six sub-regions.
Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman opened the conference, saying “Facts and figures in AFED’s report are alarming. The report should be nationally disseminated and used by all Arab countries. Its results and recommendations should be discussed by all sectors to integrate them in strategies.”
Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, and Alessandro Galli, Global Footprint Network’s Senior Scientist and Mediterranean Program Director, participated in the conference. Dr. Wackernagel presented the “Survival Options” report with AFED Secretary General Najib Saab in a panel moderated by Ashok Khosla, President of the Club of Rome.
The report shows that the Arab region has been operating an ecological deficit for more than 30 years, with available biocapacity declining by more than half over the past 50 years. Today, demand for ecological resources and services in Arab league nations is more than twice what local ecosystems can produce. If all humans lived like the average resident of member nations of the Arab League, 1.2 planets would be required. Population growth has been a primary driver of these changes.
The Arab region has one of the greatest variations in Ecological Footprint and biocapacity in the world. There is a divide between small, very wealthy nations with little biocapacity on one side (like Qatar), and large, financially poor, but relatively biocapacity-rich nations (like Sudan) on the other.
Three Arab nations rank at the top of a list of highest per capita Footprints globally: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. More than six Earths would be required if everybody lived like the average citizen of Qatar, to satisfy the level of consumption and absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, if everyone lived like an average Yemeni, humans would require the resources and ecological services of half an Earth.
To reverse these trends, conference participants discussed the need to coordinate regionally on sustainable trade and natural resource management, and to look beyond GDP as the sole measure of performance. Other sessions discussed new paths in energy use and production, the green economy, the role of business in reducing ecological footprint, and this month’s UN climate change summit in Doha (The Eighteenth Conference of Parties, or COP 18).
At the end of the Beirut conference a set of recommendations included a call for Arab governments to reduce their Ecological Footprint and to track the demand on natural capital, with the goal to ensure economic competitiveness while strengthening ecological health. (See more conference recommendations here.)
See below for regional media coverage: