The last few months have been marked by growing political conflict both in our region in the Middle East, and globally. The many displaced people around the world, especially as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war , have been weighing on my mind. Years ago, I spent a few months working abroad, leaving behind my wife with two small children before they eventually joined me. It was incredibly hard for me as a young father, knowing I was missing out on their everyday lives. When I think of war, I see those families whose lives are being ripped apart. I see the father who sends his family away so they may be safe, not knowing when he will see them again. Once you put yourself into their shoes, you realize the world’s solutions fail to see the human side of conflict.
Despite the killing of thousands of people, and the forcing of many more to become refugees, the reactions of global leadership seem to be guided mainly by the strong dependency on Russian gas as an energy source. And even where that need was reduced, countries then mainly turned to unsustainable, polluting coal power plants instead.
This is especially tragic in light of the ever-present threat of climate change. In today’s market it is much cheaper to produce electricity from renewable energy resources than to invest in traditional fossil fuel. Saving the planet costs less than destroying it with the use of fossil fuels. And yet, this war proved to the world that there are no serious plans to fight climate change. The appropriate response would have been to take this opportunity to reduce the already obsolete fossil fuel industry globally in favor of renewable energy solutions.
This crisis also demonstrated once more the importance of international cooperation on climate-related issues in order to avoid global implications of local conflicts. The Arava Institute’s geographic location (50km from Aqaba and Taba, and short flights from Saudia Arabia and Europe), and its 25 years of experience in regional cooperation, puts it in a unique position to become a future regional climate change hub. We are currently establishing a new research center that will be dedicated to climate change, and serve as a source of information and consultation for academic institutions and political stakeholders.
In addition, we are in the final planning stages for the expansion of our campus. The building will be constructed under the LEED Gold certification thanks to generating its own electricity, treating its own wastewater, and a community food garden including aquaponic and hydroponic growing methods. Students will live in the campus as a “living lab”, running and learning these technologies and methods, in order to implement similar models in their own communities.
When I look at the world today, I cannot help but be scared. But that fear can be converted into excitement for the opportunities it presents. We live in a unique time in regards to climate change in this region, and in the world. We already know that one country alone, however well-prepared or wealthy, cannot deal with all its effects; cooperation is a must. I am excited about our future Climate Change research center, and the already existing Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. I am looking forward to building more trust, and facilitate more regional cooperation.
Tareq Abu Hamed