Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Nikos Christodoulides, at the 2nd International Conference “Climate Change in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East”
CHALLENGES OF CLIMATE DIPLOMACY INTERNATIONALLY AND IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN AND MIDDLE EAST REGION
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to have this opportunity to address such an august audience, at the Second International Conference on “Climate Change in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East”.
At the outset, I wish to congratulate the Cyprus Institute, its President, my dear friend Prof. Costas Papanicolas and his associates, for their initiative, and to thank them for all their hard work in putting together such a strong line-up of speakers and panelists.
I wish also to express my sincere appreciation to all participants and to everyone who has contributed or supported in any way the organization of this Conference. I echo previous speakers in extending a very warm welcome to Cyprus to all who have travelled from abroad to be here with us, and I hope that your stay will be as pleasant as it will be productive.
Climate change is becoming more and more prevalent in a growing number of settings and contexts in our diplomatic discussions, both on the regional and on the global agenda, and the timing of this Conference could hardly have been better in view of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as the COP26 Summit, which starts at the end of the month in Glasgow.
We only need to look at what we have bitterly experienced this summer all around the Mediterranean and in Europe, to understand the urgency of the matter. The catastrophic fires that broke out in the last few months here in Cyprus, in Greece, in Israel, in Lebanon, in Algeria, In Tunisia, in Italy, in France, in Portugal and Spain, as well as the catastrophic floods in parts of continental Europe — to name only a few of the natural disasters we witnessed recently in this part of the world — are very much a by-product or a consequence of climate change, and they should serve as a loud alarm reminding us that there is no more scope for postponing effective action.
The climate crisis is not an abstract concept — it is a painful reality that transverses national borders and artificial boundaries. Climate change is an increasingly visible threat to the environment, to our societies, to our economies, to our planet as a whole. As such, it is only natural therefore that it’s increasingly taking center stage in bilateral, multilateral, regional and international meetings and forums, such as the recent EU MED9 Summit that took place in Athens, last month.
Taking action to effectively address climate change is a one-way street. Through the redesign of our policies, aiming at the implementation of drastic measures such as those envisage by the Green Deal in the context of the European Union, we can ensure sustainable development whilst achieving a high level of protection and management of the environment.
With all this in mind, and beyond our systematic and institutionalized engagement with our partners in the European Union, Cyprus has started in recent years to engage very actively with its neighbours in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the broader Middle East, bringing into play the traditional ties of friendship that Cyprus enjoys with its neighbors.
After all, geography is destiny. Let’s not forget that it is the unique geographic position of Cyprus, as Europe’s outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean, at the point where Europe meets the Middle East, Asia and Africa, that has to a large degree defined the history of this island.
Let’s put this into perspective for everyone — when we refer to Cyprus’ proximity to the Middle East region, Syria is only 93km away from the shores of Cyprus; the shores of Lebanon lie 150km away or a 20 minute flight from Larnaka; Israel is less than 250km away or under an hour’s flight – shorter than what it took me to drive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicosia to be with you this morning. Egypt is just under 350km away – the same distance as between London and Paris - and Amman in Jordan is just over an hour’s flight from Larnaka.
So, when we refer to our neighbourhood and by extension the proximity of the European Union to a vitally important region – these are the numbers and the reality. This is a region we know well, and vice versa.
It is against this very backdrop that we have prioritised in recent years, in the context of our foreign policy, the further enhancement of bilateral ties with all neighbouring countries and the promotion jointly with them of a new paradigm for the broader region, founded on peace, security, stability, cooperation and prosperity, on the basis of an inclusive agenda, for the benefit of all the peoples of the region and of future generations.
Our actions and policies in this direction are of course most evident in the establishment of an expanding network of trilateral and minilateral cooperation mechanisms, jointly with Greece, with countries of the region including most notably Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, UAE and Palestine, as well as countries even from outside the region joining on an ad-hoc basis.
As has already been pointed out in your deliberations since yesterday, the Eastern Mediterranean and broader Middle East region is classified as a global “climate hot-spot”. As projections concerning the impact of climate change in our part of the world are especially alarming, these mechanisms of regional cooperation lend themselves well and are increasingly being used as fora for discussions on joint action also in the field of environment protection, crisis management and sustainable development.
The challenges we face are common to our entire region; more intense heat waves, increased water scarcity, and more frequent extreme weather patterns and events. As a result of these phenomena, the livelihood of our citizens even for basic needs, such as food and water are coming under unprecedented threat. Our answer to these challenges needs to be a common and concerted on one as well, if we want it to be effective.
Reaping the benefits from increasing regional cooperation, Cyprus has undertaken a very concrete and substantial initiative involving the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East Region with the aim of coordinating efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and to collaborate in mitigating the impact of climate change in the region.
The ultimate objective of this initiative, which lies at the heart of today’s Conference, is to develop a targeted regional action plan that will be reviewed and adjusted depending on future developments. I am particularly pleased that this vision has finally taken off with the realisation of today’s conference, bringing the first phase, the scientific component to an end, and I truly hope that the findings presented here by all eminent experts, scientists, academics and practitioners, will be put to good use in the next phase, to draft an action plan suitable for our region.
Regional cooperation and cooperation with key international partners through joint projects or joint support schemes could also be used to facilitate the promotion of the clean energy transition. Drawing from our experience in the East Med region, we are making good use of our trilateral and regional cooperation platforms also in projecting EU standards. This is the case also when it comes to our agreements relating to natural gas exploration, or for the implementation of joint projects.
One such landmark example is that of the EMGF. The EMGF is a pioneering platform of cooperation, via which regional partners, network and promote climate/energy diplomacy goals with multifaceted value for the region. Also in relation to our discussions on energy transition, the EMGF is the ideal platform through which the EU itself can outreach in order to promote its transition agenda. How to best accommodate energy transition is part of our priority, especially during the upcoming EMGF Presidency of Cyprus in 2022, and part of the vision to transform the Levantine region into a frontrunner towards greener energy.
Experts say that natural gas will be with us for a while, as it is an environmentally friendly bridging fuel on the road to full decarbonisation, and since it can also be used to produce hydrogen or to be monetized in the form of electricity, an option which we are examining in the context of the Euroasia and the Euroafrica electricity interconnectors.
Such electricity interconnectors are known for their capacity to enhance the security of energy supply of wider regions since they can create a highway for the transmission of significant amounts of electricity generated by using gas, in this case from the fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. This practically facilitates the development and dissemination of electricity produced from Renewable Energy Sources, reduces emissions and accelerates economic growth.
The implementation of such projects will evidently also contribute to the end of the energy isolation of Cyprus, while diversifying the renewables capital in our energy mix, in a way that practically enhances the energy security of both Cyprus and the EU.
Our international engagement does not stop here. As Cyprus holds the chairmanship of the Committee on Education and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, we are planning to hold in Cyprus the 9th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference, in October 2022 with the participation of around 80 countries and 1,000 delegates. Within this same framework, we are collaborating closely with regional partners in transposing issues pertaining to education and sustainable development into their national policies.
Our role in these matters is also evident in the Union for the Mediterranean, where we have the lead in the development of a Mediterranean Strategy in this field.
In the same vein, I should also mention the conference on Climate Change and Security, which successfully concluded in Cyprus only yesterday. It was organised by the Cyprus Security and Defence Academy of the Ministry of Defence, in cooperation with European Security and Defence College, with support from the Cyprus Institute and the Cyprus Academy of Public Administration.
At the same time, as an island-nation we are also increasingly focusing our attention to sustainable aquaculture. We are currently in the initial stages of establishing in Cyprus a Centre of Excellence of Commonwealth countries, for the promotion of marine research, development and innovation.
Last but not least, as an EU Member State, Cyprus endorses and is of course fully aligned with the European Green Deal, our joint vision for a climate neutral continent in 2050, and with its dedicated roadmap for achieving this goal.
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
The situation when it comes to climate change is critical. The impact is global, with the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East expected to be affected particularly hard. The urgency and the effectiveness of our reaction will define how successful our collective efforts will be in achieving our sustainable development goals and in mitigating the impact of climate change. We owe it to the planet, we owe it to our children, we owe it to future generations to do our best.
By way of concluding, I wish to reaffirm our firm conviction in the added value of ambitious, yet achievable collective action, as well as our support to the corresponding level of commitment both at regional and at global level. Let’s rise to the challenge together.