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COP18: Arab world shares unique perspective on coping with climate change

While climate change is a relatively modern phenomenon for much of the world, people living in Arab regions have coped with similar conditions for thousands of years. COP18/CMP8 Doha offers the perfect platform for government ministers, journalists and civil society groups from around the world to take inspiration from these traditional lifestyles.

During the conference, which runs from 26 November to 7 December at the Qatar National Convention Centre, this knowledge will be passed on during Hikma hours. Hikma is the Arabic word for ‘wisdom’ and the 11 sessions, which are open to all participants at the QNCC, will bring the Arab world to the forefront of climate change discussions for the first time.

Across North Africa and the Middle East, populations have thrived despite issues such as desertification, drought and extreme weather events. Many of the techniques developed over the centuries could be adapted to help other nations deal with climate change today. But the knowledge accumulated by these ancient societies has been largely absent from UN climate change negotiations, and people often have the mistaken belief that ‘dry lands are wasteland’ when it comes to sustainability.

Hala Kilani, Outreach and Public Engagement Director at COP18/CMP8, who jointly organised the sessions with the UN, said:

Many people think that people in the Arab world mostly live in desert environments which are poor in water and forests, hence people have the perception that dry lands are wastelands. But dry lands have very important assets like mangroves, for example, which are capable of storing far more carbon than forests over the same surface area. Desert lands have always had to cope with droughts and now with climate change droughts are happening in parts of the world that have never experienced them before. This knowledge can be used to help people adapt. Arab societies have always managed resources differently because they are so scarce. For example, in Oman there is a water system called Aflaj that for centuries has been used to distribute water equally to different communities.

Another example of historic Arab conservation are Himas. Mrs Kilani adds:

These are specific to the Arab world as a way to manage these areas and keep them green. Unlike in Western countries, they do not need fences to keep people out as everyone knows they should not approach them as they live in these environments and have developed an unconscious awareness.

Among the groups hosting Hikma hours will be the Qatar Sustainability Network, The Royal Society for The Conservation of Nature from Jordan, the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism and the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature.

More information on the topics under discussion and timings of the event is available at COP18.

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