Arab Youths Take 'Arabs More Than Oil' Message to Climate Talks

Photographer: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Delegates arrive for the second day of the 18th United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Doha on Nov. 27, 2012. Close

Delegates arrive for the second day of the 18th United Nations Convention on Climate... Read More

Photographer: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Delegates arrive for the second day of the 18th United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Doha on Nov. 27, 2012.

More than 100 members of the nascent Arab Youth Climate Movement have descended on Doha to bring a message to the latest round of United Nations climate talks:  ``Arabs are more than oil.''

The Doha talks mark the first time the Middle East has hosted the climate negotiations, and the Qatari organisers paid for more than 100 young Arabs to fly to Doha from countries including Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Oman to attend the discussions. Today, group members and supporters will take part in what's being billed as the first-ever environmental march within the Gulf Cooperation Council region. Thousands are expected to show up.

The movement was founded in September and has quickly snowballed (in a snowless region) to more than 1,000 members spread across 15 countries, according to co-ordinator Reem al Mealla, a 24-year-old Bahraini marine biologist. ``We have taken that step to join together and come here and show the world that the Arab youth cares,'' al Mealla told reporters in the Qatari capital.

``The role they play is extremely important in shaping the future,'' Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, a spokesman for the conference, told reporters. ``We are here as guardians and trustees for a future they will hopefully occupy.''

Oil-dependent economies in the region, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, have over the years riled environmental groups with negotiating stances designed to protect production of the fossil fuels that, when combusted, are warming the atmosphere and oceans. The Sierra Club said a Saudi demand for compensation from climate funds to help them diversify away from oil was a ``poisonous concept'' designed to block negotiations.

At mid-year talks in Bonn in 2010, Saudi Arabia blocked a call from island nations for a review of the the international policy community's goal of preventing global temperature rise from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Some scientists now suggest the goal should be lower. The review has since been approved.

At the same talks, NGOs circulated a leaflet showing the country’s nameplate broken and in a toilet, under the caption “Feeling a bit blocked?”, a reference to paralysis in the negotiations.

That led to half an hour of negotiation time being taken up with condemnation of the action. At the subsequent round of talks a couple of months later, more negotiating time was taken up with condemnations, apologies, and the announcement of a lifetime ban for a campaigner at the environmental group WWF, as well as limitations on the number of WWF and Oxfam campaigners who could attend the following round of discussions.

``The media say our countries are the main reasons for blocking most of the negotiations,'' said the 24-year-old al Mealla. They ``are negotiating not just our fate but the fate of all creatures on the Earth.''

In prior talks, the movement has had a hard time meeting with official delegations, so in Doha, ``we decided to freak them out when we came here,'' said al Mealla. ``We wore T-shirts saying `Arabs: it's time to lead.'''

Delegates saw the T-shirts and spoke with the youths, she said. Now, they've met with most delegations, and hope to interact with them in the run-up to the next round of talks in Warsaw, towards the end of 2013, she said.

Al-Attiya, the spokesman for the organisers, took the stage with Qatari high school and university students who themselves are studying their local environment and human impacts on it. Nasser Bin Marzeek, a high school student, said he's been studying ocean acidification and its impact on marine life. Maryam al-Nosf and Abdulla Al-Ishaq described their projects to map the biodiversity of local mangroves. And Sahar Al-Ansari, a university student, said she's looking at solar technologies.

The young Arabs from the youth movement are marching along with other climate campaigners in an environmental demonstration organised by Doha Oasis, a local NGO. Khalid Al-Mohannadi, co-founder of the group, said it took just a 15-minute conversation with the interior minister to organise, and it’s the first of its kind in the Arab world.

The Qatari conference organizers say 50 NGOs from Arab countries are expected at these climate talks. That compares with 5 in the previous 17 annual gatherings. It's the first time Arab youths have joined with other global youth  movements at the talks, according to al Mealla.

``Our message is going out that Arabs are more than oil,'' she said. 

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