BEIRUT: Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal said Tuesday environmental woes and the food crisis were major issues to watch out for.
“What’s happening in the world today indicates that we are on the verge of a major problem entitled, ‘the environment’ and of a war entitled, ‘food,’” Rahhal told representatives of several civil society organizations.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) opened a regional consultation for civil society organizations in the West Asia region in Beirut Tuesday.
Rahhal also stressed the universality of the crisis: “This is a general problem that touches all continents, nations, religions, sects and parties.”
The two-day meeting– held in collaboration with the Arab Forum for Environment and Development – is one of six global sessions being held ahead of the international meeting in February in Nairobi.
Habib al-Habr, director and regional representative of UNEP in West Asia, emphasized the vital part civil society groups play in environmental awareness and protection.
“UNEP recognizes and values the role that civil society plays in sustainable development, the knowledge it holds, the energy with which it works and the sheer number of people that it interacts with,” Habr said at the launch.
He added that it was a pleasure to hold the discussions in Beirut, where the civil society community is so strong.
Rahhal spoke of the role of civil society groups in Lebanon: “These people have an environmental education … and we should develop a community that cares about these issues and can pressure governments and ministries to consider the environment as their priority.”
The aim of UNEP, Habr said, was “to further catalyze action to protect the environment through enhanced engagement and collaboration with the multitude of major groups and actors who share the same purpose around the world.”
Rahhal agreed that this collaboration between civil and state actors was essential for environmental sustainability.
“The state cannot appoint a policeman for each citizen that violates environmental regulations. Therefore civil society plays the biggest role. In Lebanon there is a movement of civil society organizations caring for the environment and we can cooperate with them.”
The three major themes of the conference will be green economy, sustainable consumption and production and international environmental governance.
Achieving a “green economy,” Habr explained, not only supports the pillars of sustainable development, but also holds the potential for “nurturing green technologies, markets and innovations … lead[ing] to the creation of decent jobs.”
Sustainable consumption is also a pressing issue facing the region, with the Arab world set to tip into severe water scarcity as early as 2015.
Ibrahim al-Subi, the executive director of the Emirates Diving Association (EDA), was due to address the meeting on engaging youth in sustainable issues.
He spoke to The Daily Star about the necessity of inculcating environmental awareness in the region’s youth.
With upwards of 1,500 members across the UAE, Ibrahim said that the association, as a large civil society group, had a responsibility to use this network to educate its members about sustainability issues, but that, “through diving we spread this message in a fun way.”
So far the EDA has persuaded Carrefour, the French hypermarket chain with branches across the UAE, to replace all their plastic carrier bags – which, when discarded can suffocate turtles and other sea creatures – with reusable bags, and to discontinue the sale of baby sharks.
Environmental issues of unreliable water supplies, coastal pollution and forest fires have all affected Lebanon in recent months.