On the 18th and 19th of January the Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE) in Cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, SwitchMed Programme) and Dubai Sustainable Cities Center hosted the Sustainable Cities Regional Workshop in Cairo. The Sustainable Cities Regional Workshop comes in line with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC) launched in June 2012 at Rio+20.
The primary objective of this initiative is to capitalize on the potential for Arab cities to lead action towards greater resource efficiency, and enhancing the quality of life in urban areas, in particular rapidly growing cities, by minimizing resource extraction, energy consumption, and waste generation through safeguarding ecosystem services and decoupling city development from resource use and environmental impacts.
The Sustainable Cities Regional Workshop also positively contributes to the “MENA State of Play of Sustainable Cities & Buildings” Report, which aims to inform the strategic direction of the GI-REC, UNEP in undertaking a comprehensive review and analysis of resource efficiency in Arab cities.
The different Arab panelists had a very rich discussion and shared information about their efforts in implementing sustainable projects and initiatives in their respective countries. The participating countries included Green Building Councils and experts from; Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Palestine.
Representatives of CEDARE, UNEP, and the UN-Habitat also participated in the workshop. The regional workshop seeks to document findings from the regional review of 12 countries in the region by mapping key institutions and initiatives and identification of case studies. The reviews were prepared in cooperation with the respective national Green Building Councils and/or specialized experts and covered the following areas:
- Status of sustainable building approaches and policies and lessons learned.
- Case studies of policies and approaches that promote efficient use of resources at the city level and integrated resource management (with particular focus on: water, energy, waste, food, construction materials, and land)
- Policies and/or programmes established by national or local authorities to support sustainable buildings, and barriers to their implementation;
Mr. Arab Hoballah, the Chief Sustainable Lifestyles, Cities and Industry – UNEP/DTIE, stated that Urban metabolism is the core of resource efficient cities methodology, and that it is another way to address resource efficiency. The issue of data is essential which we noticed at the beginning of our work. He also stressed the presence of inadequate policies and formalities and the need to coordinate laws, educate and develop them to meet the needs of each city. Arab countries have broad awareness of green buildings but far from implementing them which should be the core of our business. We need systems of incentives to be developed and revised to correspond to our needs and resources. In addition, we require training that relates to our needs of sustainable green cities.
Mr. Fareed Bushehri the UNEP Regional Resource Efficiency Officer, thinks that sustainable green buildings are gaining popularity as the awareness and understanding of its potential grows, however, Arab countries are still at the level of piloting even though there are a certain number of certified buildings there is still so much to be done. “I think that today is a positive step towards achieving the sustainable cities goals. After today’s presentations I realize that the Arab market for sustainability is still not there, we need to improve our knowledge, have proper legislation and encourage innovation.” he says. He also believes that Arab countries already possess ancestral knowledge of how to build traditional buildings that are perfected for the local environment “It’s like we are rediscovering knowledge that we already had!” Mr. Bushehri thinks that the biggest challenge is to gather all key players around the same table “We need the comprehensive approach, which is why we are building the center and we will get there step by step and help countries share knowledge and experience with each other.” He thinks that what is needed to be done can be summarized in those three simple words: “Communication, Innovation and Implementation!”
Dr. Khaled el Adli the former Giza Governor and Vice president of the International Society of City and Regional planners (ISOCARP) stated that “What we are going through worldwide is rapid urbanization, climate change and deficient resources. I think this workshop is very important because although there are many practices for sustainable cities development, the implementation methodology and process are not clear for everyone. Today we can start establishing some sort of communication for countries to be able to network, exchange technologies and share ideas”. What the Arab world needs is to be able to access reliable and sound information, know how to implement the best practices and have a database which is something that is not yet available. Buildings are only one component of sustainable cities, the other aspects include communities, streets and much more.. “Officials lack the specifics of how to deal with every aspect, and even if they do, they don’t have the informed decision making process by which they can implement them.”
Mr. John Dyfed the UN-Habitat Regional Director stated: “I think it was good to see that countries in the region seem to have the motivation towards trying to use greener technologies, however that becomes problematic with rapid urbanization because this consumes 10 times as much capita per person as rural areas.” So the rapid urbanization of Arab states calls for an improvement of transportation, energy saving and planning of cities, but according to Mr. Dyfed the most important focus is “Clean energies as this is the only way that we can start to properly address the environmental cost of urbanization.
The meeting was concluded with defining the next steps or way ahead that needs to be followed and were summarized as follows:
- Convincing and advocating
- Educating and enabling
- Observing the market carefully to ensure what is there allows us to be in business.
Mr. Arab Hoballah stated that finalizing the State of Play report is the first step and working progress that needs to keep on improving year after year. He also mentioned the Center of Dubai Land which is meant to be the original platform for sharing information, consumption patterns and a regional hub that will be linked to the global mandate and agenda of the whole Arab region which has never been done before.
Mr. Mohammad Asfour, World GBC Board member, who is the lead consultant on the project, expressed his appreciation for both the World GBC MENA network and individual GBCs from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Qatar, UAE and Oman for their positive involvement and contribution.