“I am here to fight for my right for survival.” This was the message from Merna Ahli, 18, from Egypt, that reverberated around the room where the latest Hikma session was held at COP18/CMP8.
It was the essence of what the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), which organised the event, wanted to convey to the countries that are engaged in determining the course to take in the face of climate change.
Merna’s powerful performance was the climax of a vibrant session that opened with a speech by Amira, 19, from Egypt, who urged the climate change conference to reach a deal that would secure the future for young people. She said that by the year 2035 there are projected to be 100 million youth in the Middle East and North Africa whose lives depend on the decisions that are taken now.
Amira emphasised that Arab governments must push climate change to the top of their agenda. The way forward was no more a journey to be undertaken on fossil fuels. “We can’t eat or drink oil,” she declared.
Her passionate plea was acknowledged by Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, Chairman of the Organising Sub-Committee of COP18/CMP8. In his speech to the assembled youngsters, many of whom wore T-shirts proclaiming “Arabs Time to Lead!”, he said that the Hikma session showed what the future looked like.
He was full of praise for the AYCM, which was launched only 10 weeks ago to inject a strong Arab youth voice in the climate change debate. Mr. Al-Attiya agreed that unless something was done, youth of the future would have to endure great food and water insecurity.
Qatar, he said, was addressing the needs of the future with its emphasis on education and research. Through the Qatar Foundation, the world’s top universities and institutions being set up in the country so that Arab youth don’t have to travel far to gain an education. Research opportunities through the Qatar National Research Fund were available for youth from any part of the Arab world.
Mr. Al-Attiya said that Qatar was seeking to fully exploit solar energy to generate clean water for the country. Cities, he added, had to be designed taking into account the environment, social interaction, culture, public health and energy efficiency for the youth of tomorrow to flourish.
“I’m not so much older than many of you, so I feel part of you,” Mr. Attiya told the young audience.
Moussa Sall, an AYCM activist from the African state of Mauritania, said that climate change makes no distinctions between those who pollute and those who do not. If nothing was done, everyone would pay the price. Stressing that Arab and African youth needed to act themselves, he said: “In my country, climate change is a daily reality. We can’t wait indefinitely for developed nations to fix climate change.”
Hisham Kinosh, representating the Algerian Government at the climate change negotiations, took time off to address the Hikma session. He revealed that his country aims to make 40 per cent of its energy sources renewable.
The availability of year-round sun in the Arab world was a vast, untapped resource in the view of Abdallah Saif, from Bahrain, and Riham Helmy, from Egypt. They said: “Our countries are growing fast, so we need planned, sustainable, low-energy cities.”
Abdallah said that using the region’s sand for silica to make solar panels and wind power would make a promising energy mix.
Merna Ahli rounded up the session with her powerful speech in which she declared that “if the world keeps going down the same route, we have no future”.
“All my life there have been only negotiations,” she said, referring to the UN Climate Change talks. “We need pledges, we need to be heard.”
Merna said that she did not want her children growing up in a world in which they faced the prospect of being drowned in floods, hurricanes and tsunamis.
The issue, she added, was not about ascribing blame for climate change but about taking action to tackle it. “We are not victims, we are part of the problem,” she declared. “Let’s stop pointing fingers.”