Egypt should address climate change immediately, experts say

An Egyptian-German panel at a Cairo conference Sunday night shared its views on Egypt's future challenges and opportunities in fending off the effects of climate change.

Considering Egypt's ongoing political and economic turbulence, many believe it is the wrong time to address climate change, bringing an issue considered important for wealthier countries to a nation still struggling with mass poverty.

Yet the panel, speaking at third Cairo Climate Talks conference, argued otherwise, explaining that Egypt can in fact address climate change immediately and bring about many new opportunities in the process.

"Problems are problems, whether you are in Egypt or anywhere else," said Ezzat Lewis, head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency's climate change department. "Climate change is not a theory, it's a reality; de-prioritizing it simply prolongs and broadens future socioeconomic catastrophes."

Lewis said people on the north coast's houses and livelihoods are being destroyed, drainage systems are deteriorating, the Nile is rising and the small amount of agricultural land remaining is slowly being rendered infertile.

The panel confirmed that Egypt will be in dire straits by 2050 if it does not make adjustments now, and that with the current political landscape and openness to new policies and ideas, the time has never been more appropriate for drastic changes.

Jurgen Landgrebe, a senior German Emissions Trading Authority official, explained that financing climate change solutions and switching to renewable energy sources is not the grandiose mission to save the world that many envision it to be, but rather requires many small, practical and strategic steps.

Landgrebe said Egypt should simply aim to reduce the subsidies placed on fossil fuels, helping to encourage renewable energy markets and investments, and new governments should work to employ an emissions trading program in Egypt. An example of one of these programs would have a government authority place or sell limits on carbon emissions to firms. If a firm wanted to exceed this limit, they'd have to buy additional quotas from other firms, thus penalizing high emitters and rewarding low emitters, and spreading the wealth in the process.

"Domestic financial incentives are the key to addressing climate change and shifting towards renewable energy sources," said Landgrebe. "The smallest adjustments in policy, prices and taxes will snowball over time and yield big results."

Landgrebe explained how small policy changes have allowed Germany to drop its carbon emission levels by 20 percent since 1990 without sacrificing economic growth.

The panel also discussed how EU members have "huge appetites" to invest in renewable energy, and in particular to use the Middle East and North Africa region's ideal sunny and windy climate to capitalize on investments. One program the panel referenced, the Desertec Initiative, would see the EU invest heavily in installing renewable energy farms in Egypt. According to Desertec, this energy would not only satisfy domestic need but also be exported to the EU for a predetermined price, creating favorable ties.

"The resources and the will are available. Investors are just looking for investment security, which becomes apparent when policy changes, even if minute," said Landgrebe. "Domestic action is key. The future of renewable energy lies in private investment, and the role of Egypt's future governments is to act as a catalyst in this process."

The panel explained how in Europe it was the educated people and NGOs who fought for governmental changes in policy, not the other way around, and that in Egypt, particularly now, the same must happen to achieve these important policy adjustments.

"Addressing climate change by changing policies and switching to renewable energy provides Egypt with great opportunities to create favorable ties with the EU during these times of economic hardship," said Lewis. "It must be considered seriously."

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