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Sustainable Consumption for Better Resource Management - Preface

Annual reports on the state of the Arab environment, produced since 2008 by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), have become a main source of information and a prime driver for policy reforms in Arab countries. Findings of the seven reports produced so far have clearly underscored the pivotal role of sustainable consumption patterns in any viable environmental management scheme. The Energy-Water-Food Nexus proved specifically significant, especially with the growing impact of climate change. Increasing production alone cannot solely solve the need of food for hungry people and water for thirsty people, nor will it provide power to dark villages.

Equally, building more waste dumps and incinerators cannot solve the trash crisis. The AFED report on Green Economy in 2011 already found that enhancing efficiency is much less costly than increasing supply. Inadequate consumption patterns are at the core of the problem, and any feasible solution requires a fundamental change in the way we consume resources and produce waste.

AFED reports have repeatedly emphasized the importance of promoting better efficiency and fair access to energy, water and food, and reducing waste, as there are limits to what ecosystems can provide. The Arab Ecological Footprint Atlas produced by AFED in 2012 showed that Arab countries consume twice as much resources as can be regenerated and
assimilated by their natural systems. Thus, the 2015 AFED annual report, Sustainable Consumption for Better Resource Management, discusses how changing consumption patterns can help preserve resources and protect the environment, ultimately leading to sustainable development. This report comes at an appropriate time, coinciding with the adoption by the world leaders in September 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which called in goal 12 to "ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns."

Over the last decades, rapidly growing populations, rural-urban migration, and perverse subsidies have contributed to a rising demand for energy, water, food, and other finite resources in the Arab region. Driven by economic growth, technological advancements, besides cultural and social factors, consumption patterns in most of the Arab region
have witnessed dramatic changes. In many countries, the number of cars on the roads is increasing, leisure and business trips are becoming more frequent, and the ownership of household appliances and communication gadgets is growing. However, large disparities exist between Arab countries when looking at lifestyles and patterns and levels of consumption. Similarly, disparities exist between the rich and the poor, and between rural and urban communities. Depletion of natural resources can be caused by overconsumption of the rich, as well as desperate exploitation by the poor who are fighting for basic sustenance and survival at any cost.


Changing consumption habits requires persistent educational and public awareness efforts. This would include a combination of government policies and business strategies, encouragement of individual and societal actions and the involvement of civil society and academia, together with the media. Individuals need to change their consumption habits
and lifestyles towards more sustainable behavior. A sustainably responsible individual would consume less energy and water, and generate less wastes and CO2 emissions.

For example, reducing consumption of red meat in the Arab region by only 25 percent, from about 17 kg per capita per year, would save about 27 billion cubic meters of water, considering that it takes about 16 cubic meters to produce 1 kg of red meat. With Arab population rising to about 650 million in 2050, water savings would amount to about 45 billion cubic meters. However, consumption is partly a social activity influenced by many socio-economic and cultural factors. It is worth noting that empirical studies on consumption behavior are rare in Arab countries - a gap that needs to be filled.

While it is true that changing consumption patterns requires adequate policies based on expert studies, the support of consumers is a prerequisite for successful implementation. In view of tracking how people perceive consumption and to what extent they are ready for positive change, AFED carried out a wide-ranging public opinion survey, which drew over 31,000 participants from 22 countries. The survey found that the Arab public is ready to pay more for energy and water and to change their consumption patterns if this will help preserve resources and protect the environment. A vast majority of over 80 percent said they would accept changing some aspects of their dietary habits, such as eating more fish and chicken than red meat, which is better for the environment as well as consumers' health. The survey showed a growing interest in resource efficiency, since about half chose electricity and fuel efficiency as the main criteria when buying an electrical appliance or a car. However, a vast majority, reaching 99 percent in some countries, thought that their governments were not doing enough to address environmental problems and that the environment in their countries had deteriorated over the past ten years.

The AFED report found that indiscriminate subsidies of water, energy and food promote wasteful consumption, and do not necessarily ease the burden on the poor - over 90 percent of the subsidies go to the rich. However, the report identified a clear trend for change in this regard, with six Arab countries implementing subsidy reforms over the past two years. AFED pioneered this drive since 2008, mainly in its reports "Water", "Sustainable Energy", "Food Security" and "Green Economy", which prioritized phasing out subsidies.

AFED wishes to thank all those who made this report possible, especially our institutional partners: Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi (EAD), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES), American University of Beirut
(AUB) and Arabian Gulf University (AGU), alongside all corporate and media partners who supported this endeavor.
AFED hopes that its report on sustainable consumption will help Arab countries adopt the appropriate policies to promote better management of natural resources, and to encourage the public to change their consumption habits to enhance efficiency and reduce waste.

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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