ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Arab states, likely to be among the hardest hit by climate change, are not doing enough to push renewable energy projects, environmental experts said at a two-day conference that ends on Thursday.
Carbon dioxide emissions in the region are increasing at one of the fastest rates in the world, nearly doubling in the period from 1990-2003, a UN Arab Human Development Report said.
Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are the world's three biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis, participants said, adding that climate skeptics in a region awash with petroleum doubt the urgency of adopting renewable energy projects.
"They keep saying we need more research. Why do you need additional diagnosis when the patient is dying?" May Jurdi, a professor of environmental health at the American University in Beirut told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.
Alexandria, a Mediterranean coast city and Egypt's capital in the Greco-Roman period, is a city of some 4 million people popular with tourists, that risks inundation if waters rise.
The Arab Forum for Environment and Development says rising sea waters risk shaving off 6 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product, while UN studies say flooding of 4,500 square kilometers of agricultural land in the Delta would cost $35 billion.
"Arab countries are moving too slowly toward becoming low carbon economies," said Ibrahim Abdel Gelil of the Arabian Gulf University, adding that mitigation now would cost less than adaptation later.
While there is no single catch-all renewable energy option for the region, it is ripe for investment in solar and wind, with vast desert areas and plentiful sunshine.
"Saving the planet will become the largest business case ahead of us," said Mouldi Miled, co-founder of Desertec, steering a 400 billion euro ($540 billion) plan to power Europe with sunlight from North Africa and the Middle East.
"Europe may gain 10-15 years in the fight against climate change by importing 17 percent of its energy needs from the Middle East and North Africa," Miled added.
While several Arab states have already adopted renewable energy initiatives and targets, political commitment is still lacking.
"Realities do not meet the ambitions set," said Galal Osman, a solar expert who is pushing for an Arab solar academy.
Egypt plans on supplying 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.
UAE green energy firm Masdar plans to invest $15 billion in renewable energy projects including a carbon-neutral city in Abu Dhabi.
While not all Arab states have cash to spare for green projects that remain prohibitively expensive, participants said greater regional use of green technology would push prices down.
"If the technology is deployed, it will eventually become cheaper if it turns into a competitive market," said Ezzat Abdel Hamid, a climate change expert.