Iran: How sanctions bar Iran from joining Paris climate accord

By Syed Zafar Mehdi


TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – Iran’s envoy to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, addressing the UN Security Council on Thursday, said the economic sanctions imposed on the country have impeded its efforts to tackle climate change.

Unlike terrorism, the envoy underscored, climate change is a “development issue,” with scientific evidence pointing to a “direct link between climate change and international peace and security.”

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and sixth-highest greenhouse gas emitter, has been faulted by the global community as well as climate watchdogs for not ratifying the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The country’s mitigation efforts have been rated “critically insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, a research group that monitors action on greenhouse gas emission reductions, pointing to minimal action and non-compliance with the Paris Agreement.

Iranian authorities, however, blame the international sanctions for the country’s refusal to ratify the landmark Paris climate agreement, as well as growing environmental challenges.

“The imposition of unlawful sanctions has not only prevented our access to much needed financial resources and technological means to tackle challenges associated with climate change but has also adversely affected our capacity to carry out undertakings in this regard,” Ravanchi told the UN.

Similar concerns were earlier echoed by Iran’s top environment official, Ali Salajegheh, on the sidelines of the UN climate change summit in Glasgow last month.

The newly-appointed chief of the Department of Environment (DOE) told reporters that Iran will ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change “only if” sanctions are lifted.

“Iran has been impacted by climate change like every other place in the world,” said Salajegheh. “If the (US) sanctions are removed, then we have a commitment towards the international community.”

He hastened to add that transfer of modern technology, especially in the area of renewable energy, is essential to upgrade Iran’s failing infrastructure and to tackle the climate change issue.

GHG emissions

Officials and activists in Iran say the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been mired by sanctions, especially since the former US administration announced its “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran.

“Lifting sanctions can open up international financial resources, pave way for the transfer of technologies as well as an exchange of carbon credits,” says Ebrahim Mujtahidiy, an environmental activist. “With sanctions in place, ratifying the Paris Agreement will only incur a heavy cost.”

Pertinently, while Iran is yet to ratify the climate agreement, it remains a signatory to other international climate treaties, including the 1996 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and 2015 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

“Iran’s commitments were tied to international financial help and clean technology transfer, which could not happen due to sanctions,” says Mujtahidiy. “Sanctions directly impact oil trade and production of renewable energy technologies, which in turn impact the country’s climate strategy.”

Kaveh Madani, former deputy head of the country’s environment department, says Iran does not welcome global agreements and commitments that “in the long run can turn into a big cost.”

“Iran argues that it has had a limited role in the creation of climate change and to fight climate change, the world needs to help it with financial and technological resources,” he told Anadolu Agency.

In his statement at the CO23 in Germany on Nov. 16, 2017, Madani, now a research professor at the City College of New York, had underlined that due to the “historical responsibility” of developed countries for global warming, they must “take the lead in mitigation and in providing finance and technology to developing countries,” while developing countries should take “responsible climate actions, but not at the expense of their economic and social development.”

Failed move

Iran had in November 2015 submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), a non-binding national plan for climate actions, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4% by 2030.

The move, which required significant investment, came months after a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers saw the easing of sanctions on Iran.

In July 2016, the former President Hassan Rouhani’s administration moved to ratify the Paris climate agreement, but it could not pass the Guardian Council, the country’s highest vetting body.

Yaser Jebraili, chief of the Centre for Assessment of Implementing Macro-policies of Iran, said the Rouhani administration had attempted to implement the agreement in an “illegal manner.”

He told Anadolu Agency that Rouhani’s efforts to implement the climate agreement “pushed the country to limit its usage of cheap and widely available fossil fuels and instead move towards clean but import-dependent ways of producing electricity.”

“This policy proved highly detrimental for a country dealing with harsh US sanctions,” he said, adding that the development of Iran’s power generation capacity was “nearly halved” during the Rouhani tenure compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to frequent blackouts.

“There is a race in the world to develop renewable energy technologies,” Jebraili noted. “Iran should be a developer and exporter, not an importer and a market (for others).”

Environment goals

The issue of environmental degradation and climate change received renewed attention in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in 2015 issued 15-point environmental policy directives.

It emphasized, among other things, the need to manage climatic changes, confront environmental threats, use clean energy sources, strengthen environmental diplomacy, and criminalize the destruction of the environment.

Mujtahidiy says the US sanctions created hurdles in achieving these sustainable development goals by contributing to environmental problems like water shortage, biodiversity loss, and land degradation.

Madani says while it is true that sanctions “pressure the economy and weak economies exhaust more natural resources to survive” causing “more emissions and degradation of the environment,” blaming all environmental woes on sanctions is not right.

“Sanctions have not caused Iran’s environmental problems, and lifting them will not magically solve these problems that have resulted from decades of bad management,” he asserted.

[Map of Iran by Kelisi at English Wikipedia/Creative Commons]

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