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Frantically seeking energy for peace and growth

Energy security is dependent on regional peace

by Executive Editors

From the idyllic early-December perspective of Beirut’s waterfront promenade, with views up over Jounieh bay to the distant peaks of the Sannine range, the unseasonably warm weather and the dusty mountain flanks above a layer of atmospheric haze are not calling out for an early ski excursion. The vistas on this first Sunday of the last month in 2023 clearly invite sailing and leisure crafting off the shore, while for the many land-dwelling pleasure seekers the conditions today favor cycling, skating, and indulging in a curbside argileh encouraged by music-players.  And that’s what people are doing. 

But such an observation, which one might have filed into personal memory as a simple indication of outdoor revelry options just 10 or 15 years ago, has in this winter completely lost its innocence. How can one endeavor to muse innocuously about weather and leisure at a juncture of time and space where less than 300 kilometers to our south another conurbation – on the exact same coast as Beirut – is being subjected to indescribable suffering? And when four hours flying time away in the other direction, about an estimated 100,000 denizens of the world are engaged in hot debates over our climate and energy future? 

Or, to turn the question around into an actionable approach, nothing could be seemlier for a resident of Lebanon than to dedicate herself or himself today to efforts of thwarting war in regional arenas and to seeking constructive answers to the towering problems of mismanaging the planet and its resources on the global level. Truly, taking a proactive approach when thinking through both of these regional and global challenges is incredibly appropriate from a Lebanese perspective. In principle, this is because a determined and constructive mindset of solutions is certainly the best approach open – and the only viable approach left – to responsible Lebanese citizens at the end of another year of inactivity in the important fields of public policy making and political decision making.     

A new risk order

The gravest risk and most immediate survival need that Lebanon finds itself engulfed in today, is of course to find a way out of the cross-border skirmishes hurting its villages and towns and out of ongoing warfare south of its borders (which had for more than a decade been preceded by a series of imbalanced and thus ultimately insincere attempts at solving the Middle East compunction) into a sustainable Arabian peace. In this regard, it seems almost superfluous to emphasize in these pages that on the Palestine front, the threat of regional conflict engulfs Lebanon as it does all people in the Near East, regardless of their religion and nationality. 

The urgent quest of an Arab and Lebanese energy transition, the broad topic of this special report, poses an embedded challenge of a very different sort:  with regards to global and regional needs for climate risk mitigation and climate change adaptation, Lebanon’s need for developing renewable energy and implementing a smart and sustainable energy transition, is that of a very small country. 

This is to say that on one hand, Lebanon’s energy transition will not make a huge or even mid-sized dent in the shrinking “carbon balance” of human activities. On the other hand, Lebanon’s extensive recent experiences with crises, including an energy and electricity crisis, along with its high potential for developing renewable energy (RE) sources and very quickly making an integrated energy transition, imply a national responsibility that is significantly larger than achieving energy sufficiency and equity for the people in this country.  

Potential new leaders in energy transition 

Therefore, it is of great significance for Lebanese decision makers and solution seekers that on the global energy front, the annual climate carnival of the “conference of parties” (COP) reached its 28th edition in an Arab setting. Held this year at Expo City in Dubai, the organizers’ count on the UNFCC website lists over 50,000 registered delegates, 15,000 non-governmental organizations, and almost 1,300 media organizations. 

From Dubai as the year’s geographic reference point on the importance of planetary sustainability, come important climate and energy transition news to the Arab thinker. In one example, one with direct relevance to the Arab world, a study from the International Labour Organization (ILO) trumpets that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region “could create 10 million new jobs, and accelerate GDP to 7.2 percent [growth] and employment to 5.3 percent in less than three decades, through strong industrial and climate development policies,” with an ILO official additionally noting that “the world finds itself in the middle of an accelerating global energy transition. The MENA region has the potential to become a new leader in this transition.” 

This encouraging headline offers perhaps more realistic prospects to the region than an expectant tallying of UN climate-connotated funds could. Actually, as Executive’s inquiries into accessible climate funding in Lebanon have reconfirmed during research for this special report, prospects for local funding appear dim when perusing literature such as the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Adaptation Fund (all of 2001), the famed Green Climate Fund (GCF) of 2010, or the new Loss and Damages Fund, which after considerable and time-consuming setup quibbles, received initial pledges in Dubai on the first day of COP 28. 

Good will and unweildy collaboration

A Lebanese participant in COP 28 tells of good will and sincerity. But to the distant spectator of the media and press releases around the climate event, much of the energy needed for mitigating and adapting seems rife with disagreements and alarmism. Instead of demonstrating solutions and showing models of technical, political, and behavioral adaptation, many climate change responses, at COP 28 as at previous iterations, fit with the historic human pattern of addressing big challenges of the public good with verbose statements. The question is how many of all those declarations will turn out to deliver real benefits. 

With energy security and climate management, it is the same question as with so many other historic calamities from starvation and pandemics to war. How many political promises will be enacted and how much of real behavior change will still be attempted by a sufficient number of people once the deafeningly loud alarm bells – and their amplification by media – have been superseded by other fears and more recent waves of news and propaganda? 

Clear local priorities 

For Lebanon, visibility on utilization of renewable energy and a path to energy security is obfuscated by energy multinationals (never mind that many of these corporate giants with ongoing exploration in Lebanese waters are vocal at COP 28 and yet do not provide any local interviews on their strategy and vision in a small market like Lebanon), by institutional weaknesses, and by the known obstacles to finding investments. But most of all the vision of and path to energy security is obstructed by the common trilemma regulatory and legislative failures, by politics and vain self-interests of local power players. 

 Not withstanding the small size of the Lebanese economy, Lebanon can contribute meaningfully to the human capacity for climate risk mitigation and climate change adaptation. But from the perspective of having to fight energy poverty for its population today, the more serious problem is that the country needs to take action. It is not in a luxury position of debating energy security under a carbon-neutral horizon, because there is no energy sufficiency at this moment. 

What exacerbates two of our time’s fundamental problems – war and climate threat – from the Lebanese perspective, is that they are interrelated.  It is obvious that the challenges of building future energy security with a high share of RE sources and of reaching a sustainable peace in the Middle East, have this year become intertwined to a degree that makes finding a joint solution imperative.  

Thus, in the context of energy security as a priority need of Arab countries – the theme of this special report and issue of Executive – the very soil and rocky ground on this eastern shore of the Mediterranean is crying out. No statement of global solidarity vis-a-vis threats of planetary nature will hold fundamental value until there is a breakthrough in liberating these lands from reiterative cycles of conflicts and mind-numbing hypocrisies of global, regional, and sub-regional power brokers. Development of humanly sustainable living by peoples in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War, have been delayed by self-interests, and worse, the disinterest, of historic participants in colonialism and various present-day global power players, towards mandating and supporting real regional peace. 

Indeed, without regional peace for all peoples in this part of the world – for the last 40 years one of the two most volatile and dangerous confrontation zones on the planet – all talk about food security, energy security, social security, or improved dignity and equality, will be nothing but the noisy clanging of political cymbals or fool’s bells. Thus, from the Beirut vantage point and with Lebanon as energy insecurity frontline, it is easy to see the linkages between Arab climate responsibility and the imperative of negotiating sustainable peace. 

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Executive Editors

Executive Editors are the virtuosos behind Executive’s compelling narratives. Over decades, our editorial team has applied a blend of seasoned expertise, intellectual wit, and a discerning eye to bring you insightful and engaging stories that eschew sensationalism

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