Egypt seeks to unite Arab nations on bird conservation in run-up to Cop27

Environment minister Yasmine Fouad oversees signing of co-operation protocol at conservation conference

White storks fly at a bird park at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. EPA
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Protecting routes taken by migratory birds is an issue Egypt is keen to address at the Cop27 climate conference, the country’s environment minister has said.

At the annual Birdlife International conference, Yasmine Fouad said the issue of protecting migratory birds in Egypt would be an integral part of the biodiversity discussions at Cop27, and her ministry's Migratory Soaring Birds (MSB) project was pursuing a number of partnerships to that end.

The issue of migratory bird safety has become increasingly contentious over the past decade of mass construction across Egypt, including energy infrastructure that has proven a hindrance for the millions of birds that arrive in the country each year to escape cold winters in Asia and Europe.

Osama El Gibaly heads the MSB project, a joint venture between the ministry, the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which, in 2018, received a $3.5 million tranche of funds to conserve Egypt’s bird populations.

“Over the past few years, we have significantly increased our co-operation with several of the country’s sectors to ensure the safety of migratory birds in Egypt,” he told The National, “The project has grown to include the military, civil society, the private sectors and foreign banks that fund wind energy in Egypt.”

Mr El Gibaly said Birdlife International was keen on signing co-operation protocols with other Arab countries, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, concerning areas around the Red Sea.

Two such protocols were signed on Saturday, he said — one between the organisation and the Arab Union of Electricity, a 19-country coalition that increases co-operation between producers, transporters and distributors of electricity; and another with the Arab Renewable Energy Commission, a non-profit group that operates under the auspices of the Arab League.

The agreements “sought to utilise Egyptian expertise on conserving bird populations in other Arab countries”, Mr El Gibaly told The National.

In light of several incidents where flocks of birds were killed by wind turbines, particularly in the Zafarana and Gabal El Zayt regions of the Red Sea, a system was launched to prevent any repeat, Mr El Gibaly said.

“Last year, we co-operated with the military to set up radars that would monitor incoming flocks of birds 12 kilometres away, at which point a worker at the turbine would turn it off to ensure their safe passage,” he said.

The National also spoke to Sherif Bahaa El Din, a prominent ecologist and ornithologist, who said that while the ministry’s efforts to conserve birds in Egypt had yielded some positive results, they were merely cosmetic and had done little to prevent some more egregious practices that are killing birds.

“Ninety per cent of the impetus to undertake bird conservation projects in Egypt comes from abroad," Mr Bahaa El Din said. "Renewable energy is really in right now, so when the wind energy sector was criticised for being unsafe for birds, they took major steps to correct that.

“The government does not undertake conservation efforts out of a love for birds, it is almost always responding to foreign pressure.”

But ministry efforts have been blighted by cultural factors. Mr Bahaa El Din said illegal hunting remained a major issue for migratory birds in Egypt’s Red Sea, where leashed pelicans and caged birds are a common sight at rest stops on roads to the area's various beach resorts.

Egyptians clean up Nile before Cop27 climate talks

Egyptians clean up Nile before Cop27 climate talks

An MSB report published in 2020 says bad waste management in the Red Sea poses a huge threat to migrating birds that are often injured or killed, either because of toxic fumes from landfill and water treatment plants, or by becoming entangled in discarded bits of plastic or metal.

Another concern is habitat destruction to make way for various development projects, Mr Bahaa El Din said.

“The issue is really complex and will require a great deal of effort in a number of directions to repair,” he said. “The system currently lacks an evaluation phase which would be great for outlining what works and what doesn’t.”

He suggested as the country gears up to host Cop27, the issue might come into particular focus.

Egypt’s Red Sea region is home to the world’s second-largest migratory route, which witnesses the migration of more than 2 million birds during spring and autumn each year.

Species that arrive in the Red Sea during spring and summer include the endangered Egyptian vulture.

Updated: October 10, 2022, 6:32 PM