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Jordan’s opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’

Jun 16,2020 - Last updated at Jun 16,2020

As Jordan begins to recover from the COVID-induced quarantine, and gradually reopens its economic sectors, the fact that it has managed to keep the numbers and spread of the pandemic under control cannot be denied. However, Jordan must continue to keep eyes on the future, charting a path of resilience out of an anticipated shrinkage in economic growth — estimated at a drop in GDP by 3.4 per cent in 2020 as announced by the Ministry of Finance.

Apart from GDP, a country’s successful handling of this pandemic can also be measured by the overall resilience of vital economic sectors. During the lockdown, Jordan’s water and energy supplies were uninterrupted, health facilities were able to meet testing and treatment needs, and the agricultural sector provided sufficient food security. However, this must not be taken for granted, considering the medium-long term risks associated with unsustainable abstraction of groundwater aquifers, dependency on energy imports, the need to strengthen human resources in the health sector, and the strategic need to improve efficiency and competitiveness of the agricultural sector. 

In His address to the 74th UN General Assembly, His Majesty King Abdullah put forth the following question to world leaders: “What will our world look like, if we do not work together for a healthy and safe environment? Water-scarce countries like Jordan already know the dangers of climate change. A global crisis demands global action. How can we excuse delay?” Those words ring true today, more than ever. The type of severe, trans-border impact witnessed by the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is but a preview for the type of existential threats the world will face if climate action is not taken urgently, both at national and global scales.

As the world unites in fighting the common threat of this pandemic, there is global recognition that 2020-2030 is the “Decade of Action” if humanity is to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and depletion of natural resources. The Arab Sustainable Development Report released by the Economic and Social Council for West Asia’s warns that the “the structure of Arab economies must shift towards sustainability and productivity”. The EU has already adopted “The Green New Deal” as its roadmap to “making the EU’s economy sustainable” and becoming the “first climate-neutral continent”. The UN is calling for countries to “Build Back Better”, which many countries are recognizing as a matter of survival for generations to come.

Jordan has already begun witnessing climate change impacts forecasted in reports by the Ministry of Environment, and the global science community. These include rising temperatures and associated stresses on water availability, which in turn place pressures on already-stretched health and agriculture sectors. The increase in frequency of extreme weather events including floods has resulted in loss of life, and destruction of livelihoods. Recurrence of zoonotic diseases, such as SARS, MERS, avian flu, swine flu, as well as COVID-19, spillover from regional conflicts, and these climate impacts all require investments in adaptation and resilience frameworks including early warning systems, water/energy efficient infrastructure, and technology-enabled systems in the public & private sectors.

As the country embarks on plans to recover and rebuild post-COVID, it is imperative we define what “Build Back Better” means for Jordan. For Jordan this would mean adopting an ambitious agenda for a low-carbon, climate-resilient, socially inclusive, and resource-efficient “green” economy. There is a case to be made for continued investment in low-carbon energy and transport (the highest emitters of CO2 in Jordan);  the favorable Return-on-Investment of clean energy projects, improved energy security, the opportunity for climate finance, the “green jobs” to be created, and increased competitiveness across all sectors by reducing the cost of energy. Jordan also has all it takes to emerge as a regional hub for innovation in water efficiency, integrated waste management, smart agriculture, eco-tourism and electric mobility. Prioritising adaptation and resilience measures in water, health and agriculture is also key. There are success stories in each of these sectors which must be highlighted and mainstreamed. What remains is a collective belief in this vision of Jordan as a regional leader in green economy, and coordinated action towards rebuilding a sustainable future that leaves no one behind.

 

The writer is adviser in environment and sustainability. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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