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    A ‘Green New Deal’ is Good for Lebanon

     

    Lebanon faces a threat. Its natural environment has reached a state of degradation approaching the point of no return. Yet, like many developing and middle-income countries, it is still focused on economic growth and lifting people out of poverty. Protecting the Lebanese environment seems only secondary to these objectives.

    In 2008, a group of Europeans that included green and social activists, Green Party members, and economists, came together to propose a “Green New Deal.” These people, inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, developed ideas to resolve environmental and economic crises, particularly generating development through environmentally friendly policies. The launch of a Lebanese “Green New Deal” is, similarly, necessary and may represent an opportunity for Lebanon to use its environmental challenges to spur sustainable economic growth.

    Take transportation. The Lebanese transport sector contributes to more than 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, and the car ownership ratio is one of the highest in the world at 1 car for every 3 persons. The public transportation fleet is old and polluting and there is no national land transport strategy. Investing in a modern public transportation network, with new roads and vehicles, that offers quality services to citizens would help reduce emissions and create thousands of new jobs. Such a move would also ease movement of the Lebanese to cities and villages around the country, thereby encouraging rural development.

    There is also real estate. The sector contributes 8 percent to Lebanon’s GDP and the housing market is continuing to expand despite the global economic crisis. Taking advantage of the growth in construction, the government can encourage the development of “green buildings,” which are designed to use water and energy efficiently and reduce waste and pollution. The ideal situation would be to set a legislation obliging all new buildings, especially in Beirut, to meet defined environmental standards. The government could also offer incentives like registration fee and tax exemptions to investors who develop “green buildings.”

    Total green spaces in Lebanon have decreased from 30 percent to 13 percent in only three decades. Beirut has only three parks, of which one is closed to a majority of the public. A national reforestation plan and the creation of national parks would not only increases green areas and citizens’ well-being; it would also contribute to the creation of thousands of jobs involving landscapers, experts, forest guards, contractors, architects, nurseries, and more. In addition most of these projects could attract funding and boost international investment.

    Engaging the private sector is a key to the success of any Green New Deal. Lebanon’s tourism sector contributes 9.3 percent to GDP, yet until now tourism has centered on historical sites and an attractive nightlife. Natural sites and landmarks can provide major sources of income if Lebanon develops its eco-tourism sector. The government can encourage and facilitate private initiatives to create “eco-lodges” or eco-resorts where tourists can stay and enjoy natural scenes, enjoy outdoor eco-tours and activities like hiking, rafting, and so on. Many of these resorts and activities have started to flourish in the Bekaa, Akkar and Shouf regions.

    The industrial sector contributes 19.1 percent to GDP. However, Lebanon has few industries investing in renewable energy, for example solar power. Solar power systems installed in homes save energy but they also save consumers money on their energy bills. The recycling business could also play a significant role in Lebanese waste management. The country could recycle paper, glass, plastic and other forms of waste, turning these into energy sources (alternative fuels, thermal energy) and natural fertilizers, recycled bags, and other products that could then be sold to local and regional markets.

    Green taxes remain the most effective tool to turn public policy into instruments to bring about environmental friendly growth. By taxing the industries that are damaging the environment, the government can reallocate public money toward green industries. The banking system could also be a player in this process by extending credit facilities, financial vehicles, and green funds to channel private money toward industries that are environmentally friendly.

    The list of investments and projects for a “Green New Deal” are endless and requires the engagement of all, both public and private actors. But the good news is that, as our economy struggles to develop, the efforts for protecting our natural resources can work hand in hand – transforming growth to sustainable development and making money while being green.

    This seems only natural for a country with a tree on its national flag.

    Dalal MAWAD
    The Daily Star
    16.02.2010

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