Egypt: Time for a green constitution?

Egypt’s Parliament is close to naming those responsible for drafting a new constitution. 

Religion, class, faith, culture and gender will all play some part in shaping this new document – but will the environment gain fair representation?

Waleed Mansour is an Egyptian environmentalist – and below is his take on the key message he would like to see those legislators take forward.

Copyright: wilhelmja (Creative Commons)

Desertification is a growing concern in Egypt (Picture: wilhelmja/Creative Commons)

As we near the stage of drafting our constitution, it is becoming imperative to strengthen the need for steering public debate to the importance of having a constitution that is geared toward sustainable development.

We need to raise public awareness of the importance of sustainable development, but we also need political parties to be conscious of such a global concern.

There is an ongoing movement around the world to focus on sustainable development due to pressing environmental challenges, such as the rising prices of energy, climate change and the consequent decrease in the amount of rain, to name only a few.

In order to attain sustainability, three pillars — namely the environment, societal concerns and the economy — should be given equal attention. This means that a decision to build a road, for example, should help the environment, society and the economy equally.

Perils of eco-dictatorship

If the community is not happy about the road even though it has a good economic reward, the road should not be built; if the road has a good environmental impact but not an economic one, it also should not be built.

Such a strategy could reduce the chance of what we call eco-dictatorship.

The call for sustainable development is in fact at the heart of the Egyptian revolution. Many of the problems we faced in Egypt prior to the 25 January revolution that persist today are environmental.

In addition to the energy crisis and inflation, there is also the continuous deterioration of the quality of life, such as the bad quality of food and fresh produce in the market, the increasing health problems related to pollution, and the general decline in hygiene and sanitation, especially with regard to inefficient waste management.

All of these problems are interlinked, and they are outcomes of unsustainable government policies that failed to help Egyptians live decent lives.

Future generations

What Egypt needs is a government that takes environmental concerns seriously through having a long-term strategy of conservation of all natural resources and human capital.

We need to be able to implement environmental conservation projects related to renewable energy and water conservation, proper agriculture and food security policies to salvage our soil and water resources.

We need to find timely solutions to our problems and take into account the rights of upcoming generations, which have not had the chance to participate in the decision-making process of this country; we do not want our legacy for the future generations to be nothing but depreciated resources.

The world — not only Egypt — currently faces two major challenges, namely the energy crisis and food security, both of which fall under the umbrella of climate change.

Because climate change has already happened, we need to adapt to it and construct solutions to safeguard the livelihood of this country.

Solutions should be valid for both long- and short-term implementation. Examples of the solutions for energy and food security issues in Egypt include switching to renewable energy resources as soon as possible.

For example, we can invest in solar energy at least for municipal purposes, like lighting or water heating, and investing in sustainable agriculture in the sense of preserving the country’s local food varieties and adopting proper water management plans.

Conservation of natural resources

Endorsing sustainable development policies is a necessity in Egypt, given the following development challenges the country will face in the coming decade: rising sea levels, deterioration of soil quality, inundation of the Delta, severe ecosystem sensitivity and energy crises, among others.

The previous bundle of problems could be typical for many other countries, but we certainly have them in Egypt as well.

The depletion of our natural resources, such as minerals, crude oil and, of course, natural gas, is another challenge.

It is therefore imperative that the new constitution should take into account that the development needs of the country have changed gravely in recent decades, and thus the policy priorities need to be geared toward finding sustainable solutions to Egypt’s problems.

Thus, Parliament’s priorities should not be focused on issues of identity or political ideologies. Public debates are currently centred on the need to have a democratically conscious constitution, while the greater challenge, I believe, is to lobby for a constitution that is environmentally conscious.

This requires focusing on writing a constitution that is intended to serve the people through sustainable development and environmental perspectives, not just to safeguard the interests of a specific party that dominates Parliament.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you include in a ‘green’ constitution?

An environmentally based constitution will help give a unique flavour to the future of Egypt and the political development act currently being established. It will make citizens more sensitive to many aspects of their lives, creating a more globally conscious citizenry.

The constitution should set a guideline for environmental protection and state that policies should be adopted to ensure air quality, health and water standards, all of which are now considered environmental human rights.

The constitution should also include a statute on the protection of the environment, limiting pollution concentration in the local environment of the country. It should also include a statute that criminalizes environmental pollution.

Using sustainable development as a benchmark for decision making will provide environmentally conscious solutions to the country and will ameliorate the environmental conditions of Egypt, making it a special place to live and invest in.

This includes providing solutions to our energy crises based on the use of renewable energies that are less carbon-intensive and more dependent on resources that cost less, in addition to a proper agriculture agenda that prevents soil degradation and secures food for everyone.

This will also cascade into solving health problems of the average Egyptian citizen, who currently suffers from indoor and outdoor pollution. And finally, it will ensure our preparedness for climate change.

Sustainability involves a proper decision-making process in which there is no tension between a majority and a minority, but only agreements based on scientific evidence that shape the economic model of the country.

Finally, revolutionary Egypt needs to be part of major global debates, such as the international climate negotiations, which is only possible if our constitution takes environmental issues seriously.

Waleed Mansour is an Egyptian environmentalist. He has worked at the UNIDO and the World Bank regional center for disaster risk reduction. In the meantime, he is a consultant for Heinrich Boll Stiftung of Germany’s Green Party.

This article was first published in the Egypt Independent

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