A day after Madrid saw around half a million people on the streets demanding faster action to solve the climate emergency, two young people from a region far away arrived at the COP25 venue in Madrid, to share their vision to move towards a clean and sustainable future. Sarah Al Harthey (27) from Saudi Arabia and Abdallah Al Shamali (27) from Jordan shared areport“Energy and Climate in the MENA region: Youth Perspective to a Sustainable Future” made in partnership with the Regional Energy and Climate Project of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Germanwatch at an event hosted at the German Pavilion.
The report talks about the challenges of the MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) region to transition from import-export of fossil fuels and use renewable energy such as solar and wind and also proposes recommendations to achieve this. After the report was presented to a mixed audience of youth activists, young delegates, energy experts and the media, Climate Tracker interviewed Sarah and Abdallah to know more about their experience, highlights and future plans.
Sarah: I have a Bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. For Masters I studied renewable energy engineering focusing on the application of super grid and higher penetration of renewable energy and electricity trading. I was really interested to take that technical understanding to policy advocacy. Now, I work as a renewable energy professional in Saudi Arabia as a business developer for renewable projects in the MENA region, especially in Saudi, and I focus my work on sustainable utilities, solar and wind.
Abdallah: I’m a renewable energy researcher and I’m also into science communication. I’m from Jordan and work on the MENA region. I mainly undertake research projects, do data collection and even energy data journalism in the MENA region.
Sarah: At some moment you realize your calling. After I graduated from electrical engineering, the whole climate moment was rising. I related to it too and as an engineer I realized my role would be through energy sector because it contributes heavily to climate change. It is through this sector that I can put my skills and knowledge to solve the issue. Fair and just transition is essential when going into any sustainable energy.
Abdallah: I’m an environmentalist at heart. I have the cause embedded in me. My education is electrical engineering and the perfect mix up or composition inside me is going to be clean renewable energy. Naturally, I went for climate action empowered by my knowledge on clean and renewable energy.
Sarah: The idea of the training program of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung MENA was to educate and empower Arab youth in the subject of climate change and energy. It started in March 2019 and ended in October this year. Throughout this period, we had trainings in Amman in Jordan and Cairo in Egypt. Each session lasted four to five days, where we worked on creating a vision for this paper. We wanted to come up with a policy paper that voiced out our ideas to our policy makers to made them realize how we see climate emergency in our developing country. Fossil fuel poses a huge challenge but we see there’s an opportunity and solution. It needs the will, collaboration among MENA region and a policy framework. We used tools and methodologies and a lot of brainstorming and discussions (let’s not say fights!). Each participant is an expert in their local region and situation from their own region. So, they got local insights. We got a lot of policy makers and NGOs to talk which really increased our knowledge.
Abdallah: I have been following FES social media accounts for quite a while. They posted applications for this program, I applied and I got accepted. We are 12 people from 10 different countries in the Arab region representing the Gulf, Levant and North Africa. It was a really nice mixture of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Although we agreed on how the future should look like, each person added what their countries needed. And that made the paper great. For instance, we had participants from Palestine, Yemen and Sudan. At some level, these countries are in crisis. They are facing the reality of climate change and conflicts. They put that passionately into the paper and added their country’s situation in the paper with respect to energy.
Abdallah: The challenges were divided into 5 chapters. One was dependency on fossil fuels, we are talking about socio-economics of energy in our region, climate and energy injustice, energy access issues in conflict regions and so on. These are not the only challenges. But we discussed and collaborated and made a priority list from the different perspectives.
Abdallah: We talk about the current situations but the paper presents recommendations at the end. Some of them are transition to renewable energy using decentralized solutions, socially just climate actions and energy access and collaboration in the MENA region.
Sarah: Renewable energy plus energy efficiency is very essential. We can have a super grid across the region and utilize each country’s potential – some have solar while some have potential in wind energy. A super grid will help us leverage this potential. We need a collaborative frame work from a policy perspective. But industrialized nations have the obligation of supporting developing nations as we rely on them for technology transfer.
Sarah: Beyond the technicalities of the paper, we noticed that despite the different realities and backgrounds, we noticed that we have a lot in common than differences. One of the things this paper brings out is MENA collaboration. Through empathy, understanding we could see common but differentiated realities and account for that in the paper. I learnt about each participant in terms of their country’s resources, governments and climate change and energy condition.
Abdallah: I have experience in research and policy papers but I didn’t expect to learn to look into things from such diverse perspectives. Look at one thing by putting yourself in other person’s shoes and to think rationally to form a shared vision was one of the most imp things I leant.
Sarah: This paper brought to my attention the relation between energy, climate change and society. I’d like to work on the social behavior at the grass route level, involve civil society in the conversation. Social angle is very necessary when we talk about energy.
Abdallah: Corporation between MENA region to reach 100 percent renewable energy transition. How can we do this as a group and not just individual. Many cannot so this alone they need collaboration, sharing experience and knowledge exchange. Sustainable consumption and energy culture are something that I am deeply interested in. I would also like to make programs for the community to learn about climate change and energy.
Sarah: I’ve been reading about Article 6 and I hope they resolve the issue. The world has been stuck at it for a while and I hope it gets solved for good. Honestly, I don’t want to come for another COP. There should be equitable solutions and shared visions that respects every country and a just transition to a clean future.
Abdallah: Today is my first day at COP. I’m not very well familiar as of now. I look forward to learning and looking at the negotiation results next week.
Sarah: First, I feel that media should stop harassing Greta everywhere she goes. They need to listen to her message first. Social media and access of information empower us beyond imagination. When such movements are happening, they bring our attention to the issues. Our governments should have intergenerational dialogue to listen to our sides and concerns as well and know that we are active and want change. Give us the outlet to support the government to make the transition keeping in mind our countries particularities and struggles. Our country is dependent on oil and it is our livelihood at stake. We can’t just shut it off tomorrow.
Abdallah: In our region we don’t have very famous youth activists like in Europe. It is great that we have this level of awareness and I love it that it has become a trend. If it becomes more popular, it’ll slowly it’ll come into our region. So, the next generation will be aware much earlier.
Sarah: Dialogue is crucial. It is important for the youth to be active and understand what they can do with their resources. It is amazing to be able to access this abundance of knowledge across the world. If you don’t have an idea, reach out to someone who does in a meaningful way. Attend online sessions.
Abdallah: Regardless of your experience or what you do, you can try and gather knowledge and also spread it. Though we hear about climate change everywhere now, try to reflect on it to understand how important this situation is. And if you are a technical person, be the tool to help your community even if not the world to help fight social and climate injustice.
The questions were asked by Kartik Chandramouli.
To strengthen climate journalism around the globe, the FES Media Fellowship cooperates with Climate Tracker and supports four young journalists, Andrea A. Gálvezfrom Spain, Kartik Chandramouli from India, Petr Vodsedalekfrom Czech Republic and Leopold Obi from Kenya who participate in this program. They receive a climate media training, report from COP25 and take part in FES events as well.
More about FES@COP25: www.fes.de/cop25
Länder / Regionen: Naher/Mittlerer Osten und Nordafrika
Arbeitseinheit: Internationale Entwicklungszusammenarbeit | Referat Naher/Mittlerer Osten und Nordafrika
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