Lebanon is presented with the most serious challenges it has faced in the past decade. The economy is struggling, the internal security situation deteriorating and the country’s neighbors pose real threats. But amidst everything, there are opportunities — not just in newfound offshore oil and gas but also within the country's ingenious population.
As we head into 2013, what can be done to help the country unite, to overcome its challenges and ultimately to grow? Over the course of this week, eight influential figures will address seven important topics, each suggesting one proposal to help the country move forward.
Today, Nada Zaarour makes the case for taking the environment more seriously.
A decade into the 21st century, it is about time our citizens and politicians realized the economic, environmental and social benefits to be achieved from moving towards a low-carbon future.
Just mentioning the word ‘green’ brings to the minds of many Lebanese mistaken clichés of tree huggers, reduced economic growth, expensive products and unfeasible styles of living. But to meet the needs of the new technology-driven world, Lebanon has little option but to transform its economy and society into a green one.
It is increasingly clear that escalating climate change is destroying the globe’s natural ecosystem, with forests ravaged and rivers poisoned. Exacerbating the crisis, especially in cities like Beirut, is rapid population growth — not merely in terms of resource use, but also in terms of services and infrastructure. It is hard to avoid the basic conclusion that the ecosystem which underpins the Lebanese economy is shrinking at a rapid pace, leaving the poor particularly vulnerable.
Eventually, Lebanon’s economic development requires a list of financial and government policy-guiding mechanisms to ensure that ample investments are made into crucial areas. These would be tailored to embellish existing natural capital while simultaneously minimizing environmental risks. For these changes to happen, Lebanon will undoubtedly need fundamental reform, and I believe that there are four main steps to doing so.
First, we must develop and promote an efficient and fair transition to a green economy, including establishing fully-fledged fiscal and economic policy measures where market infrastructures encourage new investment. Second, tax reforms that encourage environmental sustainability should be proposed, along with a definite revision of the current inflated taxing measures. Third, we must drive market change through public expenditure, including at an individual level spending our money on environmentally friendly goods, and at a larger level encouraging the government to invest in cleaner infrastructure provisions and sustainable procurement.
Finally, and crucially, we need to foster a new awareness that while reforming the country’s unsustainable economic activity might be politically difficult in the short-term, moving towards a green economy in the longer-term is fiscally advantageous in every way.
Such moves require serious changes to the decision-making processes within institutions like the Ministry of Finance. The many governments that we have had in Lebanon since the civil war have tended to favor short-term, financial crisis strategies, supporting non-renewable energy at the expense of other sectors while continuing to exploit our natural capital. Yet the upcoming challenges are far too big to be dealt with by such short-sighted strategies and we must consider beyond the next few years.
There are benefits to be made as well. Globally, renewable energy investments are expected to reach $630 billion by 2030, up from $162 billion in 2009, and are expected to create an additional 20 million jobs worldwide. What might seem surprising is that many emerging and developing economies are already reaping the benefits of moving towards a green economy. One example, which demonstrates the multiple benefits that can be realized from promoting new green sectors — in addition to greening the traditional brown sectors — is the expected growth of certified biodiversity-friendly agricultural products from $40 billion in 2008 to $21 billion by 2020.
Lebanon must accelerate efforts to shift from this unsustainable ‘brown’ economic system to a low-carbon, resource-rich green economy. A country like Lebanon, blessed with the natural resources of wind and water, could easily lessen excessive dependence on fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal. We must not use the very new findings of offshore oil and gas to ignore this issue, as if we do, later generations will have no choices left.
Nada Zaarour is the vice-president of Lebanon's Green Party
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not of Executive Magazine
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