Story | 21 Feb, 2020

Conference Highlights the Role of Higher Education in Propelling Climate Action in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

By Damilola S. Olawuyi - When leading international law scholars convened in Settat, Morocco for the 2019 Middle East and North Africa Environmental Law Scholars conference, hosted by the College of Law, Hassan the First University, Settat, Morocco, in December 2019, they set out to determine how law schools and universities in the MENA region can propel climate action through innovative teaching. 


The conference, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, and hosted by the College of Law, Hassan First University of Settat, Morocco, was organized in strategic partnership with the College of Law, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Doha, Qatar; Laboratory for Research on Comparative Democratic Transition, Morocco; and LexisNexis Middle East and North Africa.

Building on the success of the inaugural conference held at the HBKU College of Law, Qatar in 2018, this year’s conference brought together leading environmental law scholars, practitioners and policymakers to discuss the role of education in advancing climate change action in the region. The conference also represented an opportunity for attendees to brainstorm about the most effective means of integrating climate change law teaching into university curricula in the region. Particular attention was paid to how MENA countries can advance investment in climate-smart infrastructure, i.e. buildings, structures and systems that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve society’s ability to adapt to, and cope with, the risks posed by climate change. 

While welcoming attendees to the conference, the President of Hassan First University of Settat, Morocco, Dr. Khadija Essafi, underscored the importance of education as a necessary tool to inform, inspire and motivate stakeholders across all key sectors to support global efforts to address climate change. Similarly, in her opening address, Ms. Aphrodite Smagadi, legal officer of the law division at the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya, highlighted the crucial importance of including climate change law as a subject in higher education curricula. “This conference presents an opportunity to further enhance teaching, learning and research on climate change law in the MENA region” she said.  She also highlighted how MENA environmental law scholars can benefit from diverse international resources, networks and programs to enhance capacity for teaching and promoting climate change law in the region. 

The first keynote lecture by Dr. Mahjoub El Haiba, Member of the National Council for Human Rights of Morocco, highlighted how climate change could threaten the realization of several human rights in the region. According to him, climate change poses significant threats to human rights in the MENA region. By integrating climate change education into university curricula, MENA environmental law scholars can provide a tool for reducing those risks, he concluded. 

Similarly, the second keynote lecture by Professor Randall Abate, Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy, Monmouth University, United States, emphasized that future generations, wildlife, and natural resources, collectively “the voiceless,” are the most vulnerable and least equipped populations to protect themselves from the impacts of global climate change. He called for a ‘stewardship-focused and rights-based system derived from the mandate inherent in the concept of sustainable development’ as a way forward to mitigate the common vulnerabilities of the voiceless in the Anthropocene era. 

The four workshops at the conference featured presentations by eminent scholars from the United States, Canada, Kenya, as well as regional experts from across the Arab region. Other collaborators included representatives of Kuwait Environment Police, LexisNexis Middle East & North Africa, and representatives from organizations and ministries in Morocco.

A significant outcome of the conference was the official inauguration of the first Executive Council of the Association for Environmental Law Lecturers in Middle East and North African Universities (ASSELLMU), made up of regional environmental law experts who will continue to steer the research, training and outreach mandates of the association. According to Dr. Damilola Olawuyi, associate professor at HBKU Law, who was unanimously elected as inaugural chair of ASSELLMU, “This year’s conference has greatly highlighted the important roles of academics, and non-academics from financial, government, and industrial spheres, in addressing the deep vulnerabilities of the MENA region to dangerous climate change. The HBKU College of Law, as well as the newly inaugurated expert committees of ASSELLMU, will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to unearth practical training, research and innovative solutions to these problems.”  

Also elected to the Executive Council are Prof Riyad Fakhri, Vice Chair (North Africa), Dr. Ardit Memeti, Vice Chair (Middle East), Dr. Omar Khataibeh, Chair of the Committee on Judiciary and Environmental Law Practice, Dr. Dalal Aassouli, Chair of the Committee on Industry Outreach and Policy Research, and Dr Aziza Moneer, Chair of the Young Members Committee.

ASSELLMU’s next conference is scheduled to be held in Kuwait in 2020.  Furthermore, a scientific committee consisting of environmental law ‘champions’ from across the MENA region was inaugurated to organize the next conference. 

According to Dr. Susan L. Karamanian, dean of HBKU Law, ‘It was an honor to extend the college’s strategic partnership with ASSELLMU for a second consecutive year. Doing so reflects that we are increasingly at the heart of debates shaping global legal discourse. These include efforts to enhance and expand the academic teaching of climate change law. Thanks to its geographical location, Qatar has more than a passing interest in this particular issue. It’s also why we’re committed to developing teaching options that traverse civil, common, and Sharia legal systems’ she concluded.