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Words Alia Fawaz

Climate change is a leading global concern today. World leaders and climate change stakeholders regularly meet to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  The Kyoto Protocol was the first international treaty to deal with controlling and reducing GHG. It established legally binding obligations for the developed countries to reduce their GHG, recognizing that those countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity.

However, Kyoto, as well as the ensuing Copenhagen conference, were deemed big failures and seen by many as unfair in their “‘top-down” approach, where the burden was placed on the developed nations rather than the developing ones. The United States famously dropped out of Kyoto in 2001 and over 100 developing countries, including China and India, were exempted from the treaty.

Lebanon’s commitment at COP21

The recent COP21 in Paris, held in 2015, did things differently, perhaps learning from previous mistakes, and adopted a “bottom-up” approach. Each country was asked what it could do to reduce climate change.  This more impartial approach allowed each country to assume control and decide how much it wanted to reduce its GHG, whether one, five or even 80 percent.

To prepare for COP21, Lebanon got to work and gathered all the stakeholders, the ministries, decision-makers, including technical experts, and put together the national plan.  Lea Kai Aboukhater, Climate Change Project Officer at the United Nations Development Program in Lebanon, explains: “We did not re-invent the wheel. We took all the plans and policies already in place and agreed by the Council of Ministers – those that existed but were not applied yet – and did an assessment. If they implemented them all, how would that translate to emission reduction potential in Lebanon?   The answers served as the blueprint for Lebanon and were presented at the COP21.”

So what are these various plans that could be making a difference for the country?  One example is the Ministry of Agriculture’s re-forestation project to plant 40 million trees in Lebanon by 2030.  Another is Lebanon’s plan to derive 15 percent of national energy from renewables. “So if these all did take place, we calculated how much less GHG emission we would have,” explains Aboukhater.   

After assessing the GHG reduction based on the notion that all the plans are successfully implemented, the team came up with the “realistic” and modest target of reducing Lebanon’s GHG by 15 percent by 2030.  “This is not a risk as we have a budget in the respective ministries to roll out all these projects,” says Aboukhater.  If however, there is more financial assistance, technical help and capacity building, the UNDP in Lebanon believes that the country could even reach a bigger reduction of 30 percent by 2030. Lebanon’s plan at COP21 was actually considered the most ambitious in the region.

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Implementing the commitment

Looking at the big picture, Lebanon is a tiny pollutant, contributing a mere 0.07 percent share of global emissions.  One might ask, so why bother with an ambitious reduction plan?  But of course the efforts made to reduce GHG are all beneficial for the country, enabling the strategies in place to tackle key sectors such as energy, transport, waste, wastewater and other areas that are already in dire need of reform. “With or without climate change in mind, we should tackle these issues anyway,” stresses Aboukhater.

Naturally what follows the proposal is preparing an actual road map to implement the commitment. In July 2016, UNDP Lebanon sat down with all the decision- makers and stakeholders to appoint who is responsible for what, by when, and what are the indicators of success. “We will have progress indicators so each year we will all meet in order to see where we need more help for example,” says Aboukhater.   Incentives (financial mechanisms) for the private sector are also being offered to get it involved.  For example UNDP cooperated with the Banque du Liban (BDL) for a successful subsidized loan mechanism known as the National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action (NEEREA). Basically NEEREA gives loans to anyone (private entity or individual) to invest in an energy-efficient project at 0 percent interest through the banks. Now a similar loan package through BDL is being prepared for hotels in the country, so that the green practice goes beyond energy efficiency and covers water, food waste, and so forth.

There is also an accreditation system with Lebanese schools so that they prepare an action plan that involves the students, allowing them to be part of a global network of green schools. The UNDP has even produced a teacher’s guide to climate change, which is targeted at educators in all class levels and subjects.  For example a math teacher can present how to read a graph using real statistics of climate change.  “We wanted to create out- of-the- box ideas for teachers and to find ways to incorporate this topic into their lessons,” explains Aboukhater.  So far the guide is available in English and French and the Ministry of Education will be proofreading and issuing the first edition, which will be rolled out in some schools as a pilot. The second version will later be disseminated to all schools in Lebanon, and also have an Arabic version.

Lebanon Climate Act

The private sector is also being involved through the newly launched Lebanon Climate Act, which is an alliance of all private companies and institutions committed to climate action. Whether it’s a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project, a product or service it provides, the bottom line is that it has to be climate-friendly. UNDP Lebanon provides training throughout the year to companies to show them ways by which they can contribute to this alliance, which also has the support of the BDL.  For example, if a bank does not have anything in place or does not plan to start a project, it recommends that the bank adopt a project from a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).  “One idea we may suggest is to partner with an NGO that is planting forests for example,” says Aboukhater.  She adds: “Why not help a start-up? Now there is one just for car-pooling to reduce cars. A bank can even organize a shuttle bus for their employees.”  Clearly there are many initiatives that can be done by all companies and institutions, both externally and internally.

These can also be small initiatives that allow companies of any size to contribute to reducing climate emissions. Ultimately these green initiatives share the burden with the government. Already the Lebanon Climate Act has 200 members and as part of this initiative, each company will propose actions to reduce its environmental and carbon footprint, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy, and build more sustainable businesses and communities to tackle climate change. Along with in-house training, UNDP is now providing streaming sessions and a manual for members to give them ideas on how to get involved and to put them in contact with the right people.