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A Green New Deal for Lebanon: Highlights from the Institute for Global Prosperity’s Lebanon’s Week

By Nouhad Awwad, edited by Balsam Gharib


On March 20, 2024, I had the privilege of taking part in the 10th anniversary of the Institute of Global Prosperity (IGP) at University College London (UCL) to celebrate all their work in Lebanon. The people I met, the interactions with the IGP staff, and the overall experience of Lebanon Week provided me with in-depth climate knowledge and cemented my passion for environmental activism. I was specifically invited to participate as a speaker in the panel on the “Green New Deal for Lebanon and the MENA region” to discuss the urgency and significance of climate action to Lebanon and the region.


The Green New Deal is a strategic framework that addresses economic inequality and climate change to ensure a just transition to a sustainable future. The framework entails a comprehensive policy proposal that emphasizes the need to transition to a low-carbon economy, create green jobs, improve energy efficiency through greater investments in renewable energy, all while prioritizing social equality (Barbier, 2009). To discuss the energy landscape in Lebanon, sustainability specialist Dr Nadim Farajalla chaired the first panel on the “Pathways to Better Services”, with panellists Marc Ayoub, energy policy researcher and consultant, and Martin Keulertz, lecturer in environmental management. The session highlighted the environmental challenges arising from poor governance, the economic crisis and the oil and generator cartels profiting from the crisis locally, rendering an urgent need for a just transition to renewable energy. The lack of governmental action and accountability coupled with the unprecedented economic and financial crises is causing people to rely on the most affordable energy option, which remains (though much more expensive than before), diesel generators. This is due to the unreliability of public electricity supply and the increase in electricity tariffs which is allowing those who can afford solar panels to shift to renewable energy while those who cannot continue to suffer from minimal electricity hours for above-average costs. Marc highlighted how this is going to lead to a bigger problem on the long term, since the greening process is becoming hugely informal in the absence of governmental regulation. This informality can risk transforming the renewable energy service

into a commodity since large companies may end up monopolizing this transition, rendering it unattainable by many and possibly becoming another replica of the already existing diesel cartel. Hence, there is a need to focus on "Who is going to lead this transition in Lebanon?" to ensure a just transition.


Another challenge raised by the speakers is the continued reliance on donor money to green a greatly unproductive economy. A huge part of the green new deal involves developing diverse local funding mechanisms that allow for the sustainability of such a transition. Dr. Martin emphasized that in the context of Lebanon, it is imperative to get the private sector on board to lead as the government lacks the needed capacities. Other solutions that were identified as promising spaces for decentralized energy transitions are community-led projects, such as solar-powered pumping systems. Nevertheless, the speakers agreed on the fact that greening the economy cannot happen in a vacuum; it needs a whole-systems approach that focuses on governance as a priority to manage a "just" transition successfully. Nadim pointed to numerous areas that can be worked on in tandem such as developing the infrastructure for non-motorized transport, capitalizing on the abundance of the water sources locally to produce hydroelectric power, greening tourism and encouraging investments in the green economy to bring both large and small investors on board. Equally important is the need to give security insurances to help encourage the diversity of investments and secure their returns so as not to allow the monopolization of this sector by large stakeholders only. Civil society members willing to work on green initiatives should also be encouraged, but their work ought to be monitored by local authorities such as municipalities. The session concluded with all these important takeaways.




I spoke on the second panel titled: ‘Pathways to Political and Economic Solutions’ alongside Dr. Robert Rybski and moderated by Dr. Manal Shehabi. Climate change is affecting the region heavily, with greater water scarcity levels, less precipitation, and an unprecedented rise in sea levels. The MENA region's temperature is already doubling more than the world’s average (Miller et al., 2022). In Iraq, the projected rise in mean annual temperature by 5.4 degrees Celsius could lead to 70% of all days becoming “hot days” (Climate Centre, 2022). Consequently, the region is bearing the greatest effects of climate change when, collectively as a whole, the MENA only emits around 5 % of the overall greenhouse gas emissions (Lienard, 2022).


With the MENA region still hugely depending on fossil fuel industries to satisfy market demands, transitioning to renewable energy presents both challenges and opportunities. First, there is an asymmetry of political and economic power in the MENA region countries and there is a great variety in the energy plans which renders a unified Green New Deal for the region quite difficult (Mesia, 2021).



Panel 2 joining panellists Dr. Robert Rybski, Nouhad Awwad, and Dr. Manal Shehabi

Dr. Rybski discussed that central to the concept of a green deal is the idea of a just transition, ensuring that the shift towards renewable energy and sustainable practices leaves no one behind. The EU Green Deal requires coordination between geographic neighbours and the same will be faced with MENA economic partners. The concept of a "just transition" emphasizes the importance of addressing the social impacts of decarbonization, which entails “switching from the use of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or oil to carbon-free and renewable energy sources” (myclimate.org). It embodies an approach that upholds human rights while fostering sustainable development, eliminating poverty, and creating quality jobs. Some experts view it as a unique opportunity to prevent a climate crisis while simultaneously transforming economies and industries to combat inequality and social exclusion (IHRB,2024).


For oil-dependent countries, having a just transition is essential as it includes economic diversification and requires protecting the most vulnerable from the impacts of this transition. For instance, those working in the fossil fuel industry ought to be protected by robust social safety nets including unemployment benefits, healthcare, and pensions to help them navigate the transition. In addition, providing reskilling and retraining programs tailored to the demands of a green economy is also of great significance to ensure a just transition. On the economic level, economic diversification

such as investing in new industries and supporting small and medium enterprises, are also very essential to create alternative employment opportunities.


In Lebanon, where the impacts of climate change are already being felt, a green deal is not just desirable but imperative for securing a sustainable future for generations to come. The speakers highlighted that there needs to be more adequate green investments and green financing. Lebanon faces challenges in climate negotiations, being part of the Arab group that is dominated by oil countries. A major political hurdle locally is also seeing the parliamentary bills get implemented; most notably the latest renewable energy law passed in Parliament last year.


The session ended with key important needs: 1) to strengthen the role of the civil society through energy democracy frameworks (e.g., large-scale Renewable Energy investments to individuals and communities that are involved at a political level.); 2) to encourage decentralized energy production such as promoting community solar programs or small wind turbines; 3) to design multifunctional multi-residential areas which can attract substantial investments and enhance grid economic power. These environments would not only promote sustainable living, but also serve as hubs for community engagement and political activism, enabling residents to participate more actively in decision-making processes related to energy and environmental policies.


I consider writing this blog a stepping stone in raising awareness about the Green New Deal for the MENA region. Furthermore, I would like to take part in designing and implementing workshops and projects to foster a better and more comprehensive dialogue on the just transition among key stakeholders and members of the public. It was an honor to participate as a panelist in this workshop and to attend the whole of IGP’s Lebanon week at UCL. This experience was not only educational but also a journey of personal and professional growth. I am thrilled to have been part of this incredible event and look forward to continuing the important work of advancing sustainability and prosperity for all.


References:

1. Barbier, Edward. (2009). A Global Green New Deal Report prepared for the Green Economy Initiative of UNEP. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&type=400&nr=670&menu=1515

2. Climate Centre. 2022. Climate Fact Sheet-Country Level-Iraq https://www.climatecentre.org/wp-content/uploads/RCCC-Country-profiles-Iraq_2022-Final.pdf

3. Institute for Human Rights and Business, IHRB, [2024]. What is Just Transition? https://www.ihrb.org/explainers/what-is-just-transition

4. Kathryn A. Miller, George Zittis, David Santillo & Paul Johnston. (2022). Living on the Edge: The implications of climate change for six countries in the Middle East North Africa region. Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report (Review) 02-2022. https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-mena-stateless/2022/11/b57fcf2f-greenpeace-living-on-the-edge-full-english.pdf

5. Lienard, C. (2022, March). Mitigating climate change in the Mena: shifting to a new paradigm. Brussels International Center. https://www.bic-rhr.com/sites/default/files/inline-files/BIC April 2022 Policy Brief-Climate Change in the MENA, Clementine Lienard.pdf

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