The Arab World’s chronic disintegration – now in Poznan
|Monday, 15. December 2008 2 comment(s)||
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme
The UN Climate Change Conference, which convened in Poznan, Poland, during the first two weeks of December, managed to draw little interest of the Arab delegations, some of which arrived only in the second week of talks and some of which simply did not bother to arrive. Despite the fact that the Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, there is still to emerge a common regional voice demanding action. Adaptation will be a major challenge, due to the already scarce water resources, and, on the mitigation side, especially the rich Gulf states should urgently start addressing their exorbitantly high per capita CO2 emissions.
Thus far, the only single strong voice from the Arab World has been that of Saudi Arabia. This voice is familiar to all observers of UN climate talks and it carries a clear message: “do not harm our oil industry or else…”
Saudi Arabia, according to most observers, along with its Arab OPEC allies Kuwait and Qatar, has mostly played a counter-productive role throughout the history of international climate change negotiations. Instead of perceiving climate change as a threat to global prosperity and development, Saudi Arabia sees an ambitious international agreement to cope with climate change as a threat to its fossil-fuelled economy.
The list of merits is long: influencing the G77+China agenda, taking advantage of the consensus mechanism, threatening with blocking other agenda items, bogging down the talks with lengthy addresses and, last but not least, dominating the Arab World position.
According to Katherine Watts from CAN Europe and Wael Hmaidan from IndyAct, who spoke in a side event in Poznan, the Saudis have always been vocal while other Arab countries continue vague in their positions. The Saudi delegation is sizeable, skillful and very strategic. Other Arab delegations are generally small, which makes it impossible for them to follow all the agenda items, let alone to push forward with their own national interests. This is why they are happy to follow the Saudi lead, in a mixture of fear of being left out and feeling of empowerment.
External pressure on Saudi Arabia to change its position has been weak: Western NGOs do not feel comfortable criticizing developing countries. Arab NGOs are few and generally weak and lack capacity. The recently established Arab Climate Alliance is a positive exception in the NGO front.
The only possible external pressure that might have an effect on Saudi behaviour would have to come from the same region, in the form of a united, constructive and progressive position towards climate change mitigation. Changes in attitude in many Arab states have been visible on the ground during the last year or so. However, these feeble signs have not yet transformed into action in international fora. For example, Abu Dhabi’s declarations of ‘leadership in green energies’ were not met with any substantive action in Poznan.
Some place their hopes on the next Arab League summit in Kuwait in January, but as long as Kuwait and Qatar continue to perceive themselves as ‘particularly vulnerable’ countries, as was the case in Poznan, there is little hope for a common Arab League position.
The role of Saudi Arabia is well known, and so are the consequences, but so far no country in the region has dared to challenge it. In a region where looking for scapegoats is a popular distraction, why is everyone missing this one?
(In the picture: Delegates during the high level segment in the UN Climate Change Conference, Poznan, 11 December 2008)
Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors