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Green Jobs for All Not Only for Report Authors

Green Jobs for All Not Only for Report Authors

Sunday, 12 September, 2021 - 04:30
Najib Saab
Secretary-General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) and editor-in-chief of Environment & Development magazine

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, sent a letter of thanks to the governments that have reported on their Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC). These are the voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement, to be reported every five years. The reports come as part of the preparations for the 26th climate summit to convene in Glasgow in less than two months.

It appears from reading Espinosa's letter, disclosed by some countries, that she chose general terms, as if considering that the mere presentation of the report was an achievement in itself, placing the mechanism before content and action. She noted the good intentions expressed by countries to accelerate the reduction of GHGs emissions over the next five years, in addition to expanding the uses of renewable energy. Whereas the brief message did not highlight what was achieved in terms of national climate commitments during the past period, this will be a main item on the agenda of the Glasgow Summit, as planning for the future must benefit from past experiences, both successes and failures.

But the message's focus on renewable energy as if it were the only way to reduce emissions ignores two main issues: the first is improving energy efficiency by technological means and reducing waste by modifying consumption patterns; the second is developing technologies to capture carbon resulting from burning fuel, and reusing it in clean productive industrial processes, or storing it in safe ways. Only these methods, combined with renewable energy, can reduce emissions and achieve economic and social development in a balanced manner, as well as secure smooth transition to a zero-carbon era.

Aid packages amounting to hundreds of millions have been allocated to developing countries, from various sources, to support preparation of the NDC reports. The money came from international organizations and funds, as well as development agencies of rich countries. Multiple consulting firms and experts worked on the reports, in cooperation with relevant ministries. The process was often a worthwhile exercise, encouraging the gathering of information and setting goals and projects and plans, in cooperation with various governmental, academic and non-governmental organizations, besides the private sector. In some cases, work on climate reports triggered unprecedented cooperation among different government agencies, and often led to the creation of permanent national committees to follow up on climate issues.

A prominent example of this is Jordan, where a detailed scientific emissions report was completed, and a higher committee for climate action established that includes the secretaries-general of 16 ministries. The Jordanian government has also pledged, as part of the exercise, to double the reduction in emissions during the coming reporting period, besides an adaptation plan of action, with bylaws enacted to govern activities that impact the climate. This was preceded by passing policies to encourage renewable energy projects, which were later trimmed, resulting in a huge reduction in investments. While proponents of these progressive plans considered that they laid groundwork for attracting types of "climate finance" that support the economy and create jobs, it was noticeable that the recent economic stimulus plan in Jordan was devoid of any reference to green economy.

Lebanon was among the countries that Espinosa's message praised, for the "strategic dimension" in the NDC report submitted by its government. Same as Jordan, the Lebanese team did an excellent job in preparing the NDC report, according to the set standards. However, realizing the targets of the report is not up to the authors, but requires governmental action, including the adoption of policies and bylaws and the implementation of executive procedures. This essentially calls for a working government and a state that has basic operating elements. Thus, discussing climate change issues in the midst of the current state of collapse becomes a kind of an intellectual surrealistic exercise. This is reminiscent of the Ministry of Environment's plan years ago to encourage electric cars, at a time when Lebanon was suffering from a longstanding crisis of power outages. At the time, the minister thought that an article entitled "Electricity Before Electric Cars" was offensive.

Reducing carbon emissions to face climate change is a very important issue, but it does not encompass all environmental and economic challenges. Elegant reporting on countries' climate intentions does not necessarily mean it can be translated into action, as such reports are often impractical and unsuitable for implementation, and the best of reports are largely neglected by governments and not included in their priorities. The excellent Jordanian climate report, for example, and all the committees and bylaws surrounding it, did not prevent the government's inclination to devour parts of Dana, one of the most unique natural reserves in the world, for copper mining purposes. It also did not prevent one deputy from saying, as reported by a Jordanian journalist: "to hell with reserves and gazelles…" and another deputy adding: "they are just a couple of gazelles, I'll shoot them, and let us open the door for investment."

We understand fears of "environmental extremism", that only sees nature as aesthetic landscapes separate from human life. But the alternative is not to destroy nature without heeding consequences, as the immediate benefits may eliminate the ability to regenerate resources and endure in the future. A healthy economy is based on a balanced use of natural resources, in a way that preserves the rights of future generations and ensures the sustainability of the production.

The answer lies in governments' commitment to transform reports and studies into practical programs with sustainable economic aspects, based on clean production and balanced investment in nature's resources. It is the duty of the organizations and agencies behind these beautifully presented reports to propose practical plans that balance environmental, economic and social requirements.

We need a real commitment from governments, international organizations and agencies to deliver the benefits of sustainable development to all. Until that happens, most climate and environmental aid will continue to be spent on writing reports, that in most cases do not translate into implementation plans. The best answer to those opposing environmental protection measures is to turn reports into sustainable economic plans, that create jobs for large groups of people, rather than just creating jobs for the report's authors alone.

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