A 5,000-year opportunity

Paris Agreement signals great chances for Lebanon

Heads of delegations at COP21 | CC 2.0 via Commons

“This Agreement… aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

Article 2, Paris Agreement

When it comes to managing our planet, the human race has finally succeeded in learning a few things. One lesson is that climate is something that we do influence but cannot control. Au contraire, the climate controls us in spite of all our technology. A second lesson is that we have to adapt in order to survive in the third millennium just as Paleolithic humans needed to adapt as groups to survive environmental changes during the Pleistocene era. For modern man, this adaptation is, however, a collective challenge to achieve culture change on a planetary level.

The third insight to ponder is that it is much better to affirm a chance than to obsess on downside risks. Dealing wisely with what we cannot control but are able to influence positively as very large collectives — i.e. humanity, the community of nations, single nations and business enterprises — represents a humongous opportunity with millennial consequences. Not trying to capitalize on the chance to curb climate change would mean to simultaneously fall into an intellectual ice age and invoke a slow meltdown of the global economic core.

The trigger event for this historic chance is the global agreement on reduction of global warming reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015, the so-called COP21 Paris event. In the best case it will be a tipping point in dealing with the human impacts on our climate, including a very achievable Lebanese contribution to reducing our carbon emissions (see explainer).

From a species perspective, the breakthrough of Paris lies in the declaration of a humanity-wide shared goal and collective affirmation to pursue this goal. One will be hard pressed to find any precedent for such in-principle consensus at historic events of the 20th century — from peace conferences to the founding assemblies of organizations like the League of Nations and the United Nations. The closest examples for similar formulations of a shared global will are probably the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of 2000 and their successor targets, the Sustainable Development Goals.

For implementing the Paris Agreement, national determinations are key. The agreement establishes a positive framework for national contributions. However, realizing and expanding these contributions will be a task for the sovereign institutions of the 195 states that have committed to the Paris Agreement and are expected to ratify it. The process will be complex and arduous but it comes with hope that passions and energies which were in the past wasted on debates over the reality of human climate impacts will now be invested into agreeable and achievable measures.

Bringing the climate chance [intended] process down to national levels, every country is asked to fulfill its responsibility. For countries in the Middle East, climate change-related responsibilities include not only implementation of emission goals but also needed measures for managing scarce and vital natural resources, water being at the top of the list (see comment on water resources).

For Lebanon, the call for action entails two main aspects: private and public. The country will need to continue incentive programs — primarily financed through central bank stimulus — to implement emission reduction measures. To maximize the impact of those measures, Lebanon will need to tap into external financing from donors and international institutions. This is doable (see Lebanon’s implementation of accord) but requires fiscal diligence and something totally new: political self-denial. This means that the next Lebanese government — yes, Executive still insists that we need a full government asap — will have to pass a number of laws, achieve real cooperation between ministries instead of allowing fragmented fiefdoms, and demonstrate to international funders that their money is well and efficiently invested, with the maximum outcome in emissions reductions, when provided to Lebanon.

On the private sector, our call to action is to be smart, decisive and proactive. Known for their adaptability and quickness in engineering practical solutions, various Lebanese entrepreneurs have demonstrated in recent years that they can devise alternative energy answers to problems in markets that face inherent restraints (such as, ahem, frequent interruptions of governmental power supply). As observed and documented by Executive, solar, creative energy storage, and very feasible power management solutions have been innovated by Lebanese companies. With certainty, these can be developed further and put to ecologically responsible profit generation in the growing and decentralizing markets of emerging and frontier economies in decades to come. The shift out of fossil fuels and into alternative energies is a chance for Lebanese entrepreneurs to do good, work economically, create jobs, and reduce our output gap. Unmissable.      

Returning to the global perspective, the climate change chance is a once-for-a-species opportunity that, if missed, may not recur in the next 5,000 years. This quantification is of course totally over the top and completely arbitrary but there is truth in it — and doesn’t it sound impressive?