2010: A tough year for the environment

As 2010 comes to an end, Al-Masry Al-Youm takes a look at the main environmental news–both local and international–for this year.

Climate Change: The year kicked off with turbulence for the climate change agenda. Firstly, the fiasco of the Copenhagen summit, held in December 2009, left many around the world wondering if there was room to salvage the negotiation process for a post-Kyoto protocol order.

With another blow to the agenda, February saw the resignation of the top UN climate change official Yvo de Boer. The media-savvy former Dutch civil servant and climate negotiator was widely credited with raising the profile of climate issues through his frequent press encounters and his backstage lobbying of world leaders.

But later in April, climate change activists from around the world convened in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a grassroots alternative to the failed UN climate talks.

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth brought together activists, experts, and government representatives–mostly from the southern hemisphere–to discuss methods to address the needs of communities most affected by climate change. In the end, the participants formulated a declaration of rights. The document–modified by over one thousand delegates–aims to complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by expanding rights-based protections to the environment.

Moreover, as the year comes to an end, it seems the UN multilateral talks on climate change were relatively saved after all in Cancun. Delegates attending the summit reached a deal–known as the "Cancun Agreements"–following a marathon of overnight talks during the last day of the summit. These agreements comprise a plan to design a Green Climate Fund as well as measures to protect tropical forests and ways to share clean energy technologies to help developing nations adapt to climate change. They also reaffirm a goal of raising an annual US$100 billion in aid for poor countries by 2020 and set a target of limiting a rise in average world temperatures from pre-industrial times to below 2C.

Saving the Nile delta: Media exposure on the issue of climate change in 2010 paralleled discussion locally as experts repeatedly spoke of the risks posed to the Nile delta if climate change is not taken seriously. Analysts believe Egypt lacks a coherent approach to environmental degradation which, they say, threatens the Delta region, one of the country’s most fertile regions.

Responding to questions about the submersion of the Nile Delta as a result of climate change, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Nasr Eddin Allam reportedly said in February that "the government will not allow any such thing to happen" during a press conference held to announce a plan for the projection of Egypt's water needs until 2050.

But it wasn’t until November that the government announced a new defense strategy to curb the impact of climate change on its coastal regions. Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr Eddin Allam said technical protection alternatives are being considered with the aim of preserving facilities located in the region.

Nile water dispute: Despite several meetings between Nile Basin representatives, the year launched with discord among the riparian nations. The disagreements meant Nile Basin countries refused to sign a cooperation framework agreement. The disagreement centered on a clause in the agreement stipulating that any projects in the Upper Nile region that could affect Egypt and Sudan's share of Nile water must be announced prior to implementation. Sub-Saharan African states rejected the clause and instead proceeded to sign their own Nile distribution agreement.

Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya signed the Entebbe agreement in May, spurring concern in Egypt and Sudan. Analysts interpreted the move as a reflection of the shrinking role of Egypt in the Arab World and Africa.

Oil spills: 2010 was a particularly bad year with regards to oil spill disasters. In April Swiss-based Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico two days after it exploded and caught fire while finishing a well for BP Plc about 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The spill is now considered to have been the worst in history. By August scientists believed that 80 percent of the oil remained in the gulf. It wasn’t until September that US officials finally declared BP's broken well in the Gulf of Mexico "dead." This admission came after 4.9 million barrels of crude oil were spilt.

Locally, Egypt had its fair share of oil spills this year, starting with an oil spill in Hurghada in June covering an area of 20km. The source of the spill remains unidentified. In September a barge sank in Aswan causing 110 tons of diesel to spill into the Nile followed the next day by a 40-ton spill in Sohag. And in October the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) in Dakahliya Governorate received reports about two oil spills near Mansoura. Concern still abounds regarding the safety measures in place to avert such disasters in the future.

Biodiversity: 2010 was the International Year for Biodiversity. The Global Biodiversity Outlook report–released in May of this year–highlighted missed targets set in 2002 to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. In response to this, by the end of October when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity summit took place, representatives sealed a historic global treaty to protect the world's forests, coral reefs and other threatened ecosystems within ten years. Delegates from 193 countries committed to key goals by 2020 such as curbing pollution, protecting forests and coral reefs, setting aside areas of land and water for conservation, and managing fisheries sustainably.

Egypt’s nuclear agenda: After much speculation, the first signs of Dabaa as being selected as the location for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant became clear wihen the state-run Nuclear Safety Authority reportedly asked the Ministry of Tourism to exclude the site from a list of areas set aside for development projects in March of this year. Towards the end of the year, the government confirmed the Dabaa selection with an announcement of its intention to receive bids for the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power station–to be operational by 2019– by January of 2011.

Solid waste management: Responding to much criticism on the garbage problems that plague the streets of Cairo, the Ministry of Environment throughout 2010 made several announcements on initiatives intended to ameliorate the situation.

In April, the ministry launched a campaign week aimed at raising public awareness about the best means of waste disposal. Parallel to this, a committee composed of environment, local development and finance ministry representatives, alongside representatives from the Cairo governor's office, met to review the current state of the government's solid waste management policy. The meeting was convened in hopes of reaching consensus on operational plans to establish an integrated solid waste management scheme for the urban governorates surrounding Cairo.

In June, Minister of Environment Maged George announced that the cabinet had allocated special funds for the improvement of garbage collection service in Greater Cairo; the amount involved, however, was not revealed. George also revealed that his ministry is carrying out a one-and-a-half-year project to recycle waste and use it for the generation of energy.

Meanwhile, in light of the fact that the country in 2010 still lacks a comprehensive solid-waste management system, Egypt’s civil society continues to step in to fill the vacuum of sensible action.

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