The Arab Region on the road to Rio+40 | Marwan Owaygen

14 May 2012

The Arab Region on the road to Rio+40 | Marwan Owaygen

It is true that the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainable development are becoming universal; however the struggle persists on integration. To better understand and to easier conceptualize the integrated approach to sustainable development, there is a need to address separately the link between the economic and environmental pillars and the link between the economic and social pillars.

With respect to the link between the economic and environmental pillars:

For growth to be green, it has to ensure a sustainable use of natural resources and a low-carbon (or low-emission) development. These two elements are the two key drivers of green growth. In order to address green growth in the Arab Region, there is a need to assess the sustainable use of natural resources and the low-carbon development in this region.  According to the recently published UNDP Arab Development Challenges Report, sustainable use of natural resources is perhaps the most serious long-term development challenge facing the Arab Region. Water scarcity combined with water use inefficiency and depletion of groundwater resources, and productive land scarcity combined with land degradation and desertification are two major environmental challenges facing the Arab Region with direct impacts on water and food security.

In the last 20 years, since the Rio Summit, there are limited examples from the Arab States to illustrate the sustainable use of their natural resources. In the coming 20 years, on the road to Rio+40, inherited challenges and rapid population growth coupled with climate change as a threat multiplier will make it harder for Arab States to achieve significant results on the front of the sustainable use of natural resources. This is not the case with respect to low-carbon development where investments in renewable energy and enhancement of energy efficiency are expected to take shape in Arab States in the future. Low-carbon development will be triggered by an enabling global environment for this shift, by the natural endowments of the Arab Region (particularly solar energy), by the development of local, national and regional markets for renewable energy, and by the engagement of the private sector.

With respect to the link between the economic and the social pillars:
The extent to which economic growth is inclusive or exclusive is rooted in this link. Inclusive growth emphasizes participation in and sharing the benefits of growth.  It is growth which is broad-based across sectors and includes the majority of a country’s labor force, both the poor and middle classes. The waves of change that began in the Arab Region in 2010 are partially rooted in economic exclusion. It is a moment of tremendous potential to strive for an inclusive growth in Arab States. However, an inclusive growth can be achieved without being necessary green. The great challenge is how to make an inclusive growth greener or a green growth more inclusive.

On the Road to Rio+40:

Green growth can be illustrated as a bicycle with its two key drivers (sustainable use of natural resources and low-carbon development) being its two wheels. In the Arab Region, the wheel of low-carbon development is expected to move the bicycle forward and the wheel of sustainable use of natural resources is expected to move it backward on the road to Rio+40. How far the forward and backward movement will be is difficult to predict and the extent to which Arab States will succeed to make their economic growth more inclusive is speculative. However, it is clear that sustainable development in the Arab Region cannot be achieved without an economic growth which is green and inclusive.

Marwan Owaygen, Ph.D., Regional Climate Change Policy Advisor, UNDP Regional Service Centre in Cairo for Arab States.


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