Piloting the Environment– Business & Diplomacy Middle East way

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Rajendra ShendeBy Rajendra Shende, rmshende@unep.org

26 March 2010

‘Diplomats & Businessmen’ That is the signboard at Jeddah Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia directing the arriving Diplomats and Businessmen through a special and privileged lane for passport control  and immigration clearance. I had seen such special lanes only for the diplomats in number of countries. However I had never seen a single special lane for both diplomats and businessmen. Jeddah must be the only airport in the world that equals diplomats with businessmen, when it comes to passport control. After all, why not? Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of United Nations in 1999 at the World Economic Forum said: “….. I told you about hopes for creative partnership between the United Nations and the private sector. …..that the everyday work of the United Nations — whether in peacekeeping, setting technical standards, protecting intellectual property or providing much-needed assistance to developing countries — helps to expand opportunities for business around the world”. That speech was the starting point for the launch of Global Compact Initiative of United Nation’s diplomacy.

Enter the expansive office on the top of the tower of Prince Turki bin Nasser bin Abdul Aziz, President of Precidency of Meterology and Environment . From his office on the top floor one can see far flung Jeddah and the sea beyond corniche. His Royal Highness, dressed in his traditional & elegant ‘thaub’, greeted us with confident and rich smile.   His attendant hurriedly helps him putting on formal ‘bisht’ over his thaub.

I shook hands with him recalling that we had met a few months ago in Port Ghalib when he visited UNEP’s exhibition booth to appreciate OzonAction’s activities to assist developing countries. “I was a pilot and still enjoy piloting fighter planes”, said HRH and added, “Therefore, I know your Halon issue very well!” First time in my tenure as head of OzonAction that I met a Minister who piloted fighter planes and was even aware of the Halon issue. I looked around his office; the models of all the fighter planes that he piloted were on display. One wall of his attic displayed 10 screens screening different TV channels. At the centre was Bloomberg showing price trends in oil and gold. Next to that were environmental channels like Discovery and Planet.

I was in his office to discuss the ‘non-compliance’ of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the Montreal Protocol-rather sensitive issue for the daring pilot Prince.

I succeeded in getting his full attention to the issue; maybe because our talk was spiced up with technical issues like air conditioning and refrigeration which he keenly talking about. When I said that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in the world to be declared as in non-compliance with the Montreal Protocol,” he looked around to his officials and invited a response. After his assurance that his country will return to compliance, he listened to me on the new challenge of HCFCs whose consumption is growing steeply in Saudi Arabia. It is now one of the ten largest HCFC consuming countries in the world, mainly because of rapid expansion in construction of buildings. His Royal Highness made pertinent points about alternative technologies and also the issue of dumping of HCFC technologies.

“We have informed the equipment and technology suppliers that if they sell us old technologies for which there are alternatives today, we will sue them in their country”, His Royal Highness said with calm and determined tone of a fighter pilot. The danger of dumping of HCFC technologies to the developing countries is one of the key factors that would put the country in potential non-compliance. I thought that the best environmental law practices should include such legislations to prevent technology dumping. “As we progress, there is surge in ‘Green Business’ and awareness about clean energy” he said.

I got convinced that solutions of ‘non-compliance’ with the Montreal Protocol do not lie only with Governments, Ministers and Kings. The response mainly lies with ‘businessmen’ that deploy cleaner technologies at the  market place and take steps to prevent dumping of the old and environmentally damaging technologies. .

I understood the reasons why there is special lane of passport control that had sign “Diplomats and Businessmen”.



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Congratulations Rajendra for a very timely and thought provoking article. It has brought out some very interesting aspect of your work on the Montreal Protocol. Very inspiring and a great job. Were you in Jeddah recently?

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