Egypt's environmentalists urge inclusion in state's green policies

Calls for greater transparency and fair allocation of project funding

The Zafarana wind farm in Egypt. Victoria Hazou for The National
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Egyptian environmentalists are calling for more co-operation and transparency from the government on sustainability policies before the country hosts the 2022 United Nations climate change conference (Cop27).

The heads of 50 of the country’s top private-sector green enterprises met select government officials at The American University in Cairo (AUC) to discuss the most pressing environmental concerns for the country before Cop27, which takes place in November in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.

A range of industries were represented, with five committees formed to propose policy-related solutions to the officials in the audience who included a representative from the country’s Foreign Ministry, the German ambassador to Egypt as well representatives of the country’s environment, water resources, agriculture, energy, transportation and planning ministries.

Almost every bloc called for more cooperation from the government, adding that there is an imbalance in representation when it comes to executing national green projects and too many unilateral actions on the state’s part.

Members of the civil planning committee asked for a clearer designation of responsibilities when it comes to collaborative projects between the government and the private sector, stressing that the country’s green spaces have been repeatedly invaded by government development projects, either to make way for roads, bridges or commercial enterprises.

“In order for us, Egypt’s civil society, to participate in a more meaningful way, we need to know who to report to, who to hold accountable with regards to civil planning in Egypt,” said Ahmed El Dorghamy, the civil planning representative, at the meeting.

“We have reached a consensus that there is a gap in this area that needs to be addressed if civil society is going to contribute to Cop27.”

Civil planning experts also believe that there are major discrepancies between the blueprints for national projects released by the government and what ends up being executed on the ground. They requested more accountability from the state and more inclusion in the implementation phase to ensure their expertise in their respective fields does not go to waste.

Environmentalists are calling for major changes to the country's traffic laws, which clearly favour motorists and are not planned to be inclusive to pedestrians or cyclists.

They pointed out that only 14 per cent of Egyptians own a private car and the rest use public transportation, so more focus should be placed on making it more affordable and sustainable.

“We are seeing settlements built on large areas of land, made up of low buildings, which has increased our dependency on cars greatly,” Mr El Dorghamy said.

Managing the waste from large-scale construction is also a big challenge for Egypt, especially in light of a multitude of mega infrastructure projects undertaken by the government of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the civil planning committee said.

Another committee was formed to discuss the social effects of climate change and how to mitigate them. The representative’s rather short speech concluded that Egypt still needs to address more pressing social issues such as gender equality and empowerment of minorities before it can implement the more advanced social management mechanisms needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“There are basic things that were agreed upon years ago and they continue to be ignored,” said Mariam Omar, the social impact representative.

“Existing laws regarding inheritance, or women’s empowerment and their representation in community leadership roles continue to be ignored and not implemented on the ground.”

This committee noted that most of the officials who approve laws concerning women are male.

“Women should be represented by women, because they will know what policy would work best for women,” the representative said.

Egyptian farmers plant rice seedling in the fertile Delta in Tanta. EPA

Leaders of water projects felt it was particularly prudent for civilian experts to participate in state policies concerning the future of the country's resources.

They pointed out that because water is an issue that falls under the jurisdiction of a number of ministries, it is often difficult to know which one to report to, which causes projects to stall or be carried out incorrectly.

The water committee felt that government development projects are being undertaken without a scientific study of their effect on the country’s water resources. They said that water security remains one of the country’s top environmental concerns.

Another pressing concern for the country’s environmentalists is the allocation of funds for green projects in Egypt, which will require a great deal of meticulous planning, the finance committee said.

A finance expert said that although there are always funds set aside for green projects in Egypt’s annual budget, they are often mismanaged which results in little actually finding its way to the right place.

The finance committee stressed the importance of civilian participation in how foreign loans are managed to ensure that "funds allocated for green projects are used for green projects".

Members of the green energy bloc representing energy security also called for an improvement of dialogue channels with the government and a halting of unilateral action.

They asked for a revision of existing laws that limit individuals and corporation’s access to solar energy, adding that recent changes to the country’s energy laws have been detrimental to the progress of the country’s private solar energy sector.

The energy group said that the top priority for the country right now is to diversify its energy sources, which will require switching to more sustainable energy sources nationwide. The transition will be an intricate process, the rep said, which will need participation from experts in the field, the majority of whom work in the private sector.

Biodiversity experts, meanwhile, called for a halt of all tourism activities in areas where they have been proven detrimental to the local ecosystem. Additionally, awareness campaigns must be undertaken to educate tourists on how to treat the natural spaces they visit.

Furthermore, they felt that tourism workers working in natural reserves should be native to the region they are working in which will make them much more in tune to its needs and will mean they will know the best places to take tourists.

More native participation can make more money for the government, they said.

A meeting at The American University in Cairo (AUC) between government officials and members of the country's private sector working in the green field. Mahmoud Nasr / The National

The government officials in attendance promised to present what was discussed to the leadership, which has made environmentalism a top priority before the conference, whose success is crucial for Egypt's international image.

The government plans to transform Sharm El Sheikh into a green, smart utopia. The city has been entirely made-over and the government has reinstated a 2019 ban on single-use plastics which fell through the cracks during the pandemic.

Cop27 takes place from November 7-November 18.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 5:33 PM