BEIRUT: The Environment Ministry has a comprehensive action plan but still lacks a clear environmental strategy that can be adopted by the government and upheld by other ministries, an NGO has warned.
The view was expressed by the Lebanese Environmental Party (LEP), which recently hosted Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal for a session with party members and activists to discuss an ambitious agenda for environmental recovery.
“All ministries should operate based on an environmental strategy approved by the Cabinet, as the environment represents Lebanon’s sole form of capital,” LEP president Habib Maalouf said during a workshop on Friday evening.
The ministry issued a 2010-2012 agenda last month, touching on the main environmental challenges it plans to tackle.
Those goals include promoting environmental inspection and the enforcement of environmental laws, coping with the effect of climate change, battling air pollution, encouraging sustainable management of land and soil, preserving ecological resources, enhancing the management of toxic and non-toxic waste, supporting environmentally-friendly products and bolstering job opportunities in the environment sector.
“Announcing an agenda is the first ever serious step taken by the Environment Ministry in addressing Lebanon’s environmental concerns,” Maalouf said. He added that his party was optimistic the agenda could solve some major problems.
However, Maalouf added that his party had some proposed amendments to the ministry’s agenda.
“The role of the Environment Ministry shouldn’t be only to study the environmental effects of certain projects,” he said.
He urged the ministry to produce an environmental strategy to be approved by the Cabinet and imposed on all ministries.
The 2010-2012 agenda spells out exactly which ministries should take responsibility for certain areas, but it lacks the environmental strategy that the government should enforce its application, he said.
“Abiding by this strategy will compel all ministries to refrain from carrying out projects that have catastrophic effects on nature,” Maalouf added
He also detailed several proposed amendments, which he referred to as the foundations of an environmental strategy.
These proposals include:
l Reconsidering the criteria by which licenses are granted to companies, so that the government can cancel licenses given to companies that prove to be harming the environment.
l Amending the taxation policy, to benefit environmentally-friendly products.
l Introducing changes to educational programs and school curricula.
l Enforcing a clear separation between the private and public sectors, so that businessmen don’t hold governmental posts.
l Promulgating legislation that guarantees the consumer’s right to know the true cost of products and their components.
l Banning items that endanger the environment, such as genetically modified products.
For his part, Rahhal thanked LEP officials for organizing the workshop and expressed his openness to all proposals made by the party.
“We’ve developed an agenda that addresses the main environmental problems we are facing. However, we’re ready to introduce new goals to our agenda, if we feel this is suitable and applicable,” he said.
The minister highlighted the perennial problem of insufficient personnel at his ministry, as well as its tiny budget.
“I’m not saying this in order to escape responsibility, but to underline the need for cooperation between the Environment Ministry and the municipalities, governmental and non-governmental organizations,” he said.
Rahhal emphasized the need to promote awareness about environmental issues.
“The problem [also] lies in the absence of serious follow-up of the implementation of environmental laws. That’s why the ministry will establish follow-up committees.”
He promised to set down deadlines for implementation.
“I know that our mission isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible,” Rahhal said.
Asked if the latest actions by the ministry had generated optimism, Maalouf told The Daily Star that “We’ve always lacked hope with regard to the possibility of serious steps by the ministry. But we were encouraged by the announcement of the first-ever environmental agenda.”