24 Oct, 2012 |
Arab civil society groups are ready to take part in COP18/CMP8
Unprecedented numbers of regional groups to be involved for first time

Arab civil society groups have been learning how to get more involved in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, as Qatar encourages regional environmental groups to grasp the opportunity to take part in these vital Sessions taking place in Doha next month.

As the first Middle Eastern country to host the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, Qatar has taken steps to engage Arab civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The country’s lead on this issue has resulted in unprecedented participation from regional NGOs.

As part of this engagement, members of civil society groups attended one-day workshops at the InterContinental Hotel by Doha Exhibition Centre, on Tuesday, October 23 and Wednesday, October 24, to learn more about the COP18/CMP8 process and how they can become involved.

Arab observer organisations getting involved in the biggest international conference on climate change will be part of an important exchange of information, teaching regional solutions and learning global approaches.

At the workshops they were introduced to the climate change negotiations and heard how civil society groups can play a part in the annual process.

Since the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC has been meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In the first 17 sessions, only five Arab NGOs participated. This year, because of Qatar’s active engagement and commitment to bring Arab solutions to the climate change problem, 29 Arab NGOs are ready to participate in the Conference, sending more than 150 representatives to Doha for the November and December Sessions.

“Because of Qatar’s efforts, we are seeing unprecedented levels of Arab civil society participation this year,” said Hala Kilani, the Director of Outreach and Public Engagement for COP18/CMP8 Doha.

Among the many ideas and schemes that Arab organisations bring to the table is ‘Al Hima’, inspired by a traditional and ancient sustainability method practiced by tribes in the Arabian Peninsula 1,500 years ago. In Arabic, Al Hima means a protected area or a preserved place. Islamic Al Himas became natural areas, such as grasslands or wetlands, that were set aside permanently or seasonally for communities to support vulnerable sections of their communities living under the harsh desert conditions. Today, the concept of Al Hima is being used as a model that has the potential to emerge as a suitable method of sustainable development in the Arab world.

Because of the harsh desert terrain in many Arab countries, the inhabitants are particularly vulnerable to the risks of limited resources, such as water and food. Because the entire planet faces a similar predicament with regards to natural resources, Arab NGOs have a lot to bring to the table regarding approaches to this crisis.

Assad Serhal, director general of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), will be attending the Sessions in Doha for the first time this year. In the past few years his NGO has been trying to apply the Hima model in Lebanon, engaging with local communities to protect native ecosystems and biodiversity through advocacy, capacity building, raising awareness and legal policy advising.

“The Hima revival, it’s probably the only thing we’ve done in the last 50 years - something coming from our region, from our culture - that’s going to take to the world. In the last 50 years, all the meetings we attended we were translating from other nations, from other cultures to our region. So this is our contribution, to give something back,” he said.

Mr. Serhal believes that the traditional use of Hima, which is more than 1,500 years old, can teach valuable lessons on sustainable development.

“The Hima was born here in this region, to deal with a situation that resembles the climate situation that the world is facing now. Resources are very fragile, species are endangered, and especially water, grazing lands and forests are in danger. The Hima teaches how to deal with finite resources, using it without destroying it, in a way that is known now as a sustainable use of resources,” he said.

However, SPNL is going to Doha not only to teach, but also to learn.

“Hopefully we will learn about the art and science of this… how we can make marriage between the past and the present,” Mr. Serhal said.

Although it is Qatar’s proactive engagement that has ensured high participation among Arab NGOs this year, Ms. Kilani believes that the trend will continue.

“We hope this leaves a legacy of the Arab world becoming engaged more permanently in climate negotiations,” she said.