While politicians offered little hope for progress at the recent UN Climate talks in Doha, Qatar, Arab youth offered up some sense of optimism by staging the first public demonstration in Qatar's history. The demonstration signified the birth of a new youth movement that has its focus on climate change in the Middle East.
Led by a group called the Arab Youth Climate Movement [AYCM], activists from over ten Arab countries participated in the march. The group formed in the midst of the Arab Spring with a mission of "building a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis, in the MENA Region, and all over the world," according to their website.
With some regions seeing a decline in precipitation levels and others seeing more frequent flash flooding, the Middle East is facing greater challenges due to climate change. Not to mention, climate change is also quite likely a large contributing factor in the rampant social unrest that has spread through the region in the last few years. Up to 60 percent of Syria's land faced one the worst droughts in its history from 2006-2011.
Lebanon pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 12%, however, it was the only country to have left the conference with a formal pledge. Lebanon's progress is particularly meaningful, because it shows that material welfare alone doesn't necessarily lead to heightened levels of environmental awareness. In spite of a struggling economy, war, and political instability, Lebanon's environmental civil societies are incredibly active.
But in other Middle East nations, environmental groups have had a slower start.
The OPEC oil producing nations in the Middle East make it particularly difficult to tackle climate change. Even so, these nations are looking into renewable energy sources, as "Saudi Arabia is aiming for 100% renewable energy…by 2032, [with] its first utility-scale solar plant under construction."
The goal is to rely on renewables for domestic energy supply, while shipping fossil fuels overseas.
Perhaps with the growing pressure of the AYCM and other citizens of OPEC nations, this goal will become a reality.
"The fact that this movement has only recently gained momentum is highly significant," says Katherine Shabb of Conservation International who is involved in the movement. "In the wake of the Arab Spring sweeping the region and creating a new space for change, incorporating climate change into political conversations is crucial. It’s time for Arabs to prove that they can commit to larger goals and embrace change on all levels, including environmental ones."
Joseph Ferrell is a writer based in New York City.