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Rio environment meet unlikely to benefit Lebanon: activists

  • Address of Pr.Minister Najib Mikati at the Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro. Friday, June 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

BEIRUT: Environmental group leaders are pessimistic about Lebanon benefiting from the U.N. sustainable development conference that wrapped up Friday in Brazil, despite a wide-ranging national report and calls for an environmental tribunal from the prime minister.

This week’s conference in Rio de Janero involved representatives from countries around the world, and was meant to build international unity in improving the global environment with less destructive development.

Lebanon’s lack of participation in the three-day negotiations means the country is unlikely to receive many benefits from the global conference, said Wael Hmaidan who delivered an opening speech on behalf of all NGOs at the conference.

“What’s disappointing first about this is that Lebanon wasn’t included in the negotiation process,” said Hmaidan, a board member of the environmental group IndyAct Lebanon.

Lebanon was at the conference as an observer, and not a negotiator, in a move experts say reflected a desire to avoid taking on international obligation.

Hmaidan said Lebanon’s calls for world environmental reform would likely go unheeded until the country makes international pledges it can be held to.

Lebanon’s national report for the conference contains a stark analysis of the many challenges the country faced in development over the past 20 years.

The report notes the government’s largely ineffective approach to development that fails to provide broad policy changes, as well as a number of political challenges that have continued to set the country back.

It calls for accelerating political, social and economic reform, rooting out corruption and adopting a wide-ranging new development strategy to generate jobs, energy and create better urban planning.

At the conference Thursday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the creation of an international environmental tribunal to try Israel for causing the 2006 oil spill on Lebanon’s shoreline, and criticized the Jewish state’s refusal to comply with United Nations resolutions.

“Lebanon proposes establishing an international environmental tribunal following the environmental consequences of the 2006 war – primarily the oil pollution crisis over which Lebanon has not received any compensation from the Israeli enemy,” Mikati said during his speech.

Mikati was referring to Israel’s bombing of Lebanon’s Jiyye power station during the 34-day conflict in July and August of 2006. The bombing caused the power station to release 15,000 tons of unrefined fuel oil into the Mediterranean sea.

“These statements are not binding in any way,” Hmaidan said about Lebanon’s national report to the conference and Mikati’s calls.

“We need serious commitments, we don’t need fake promises,” he said.

The other major reason the conference in Rio is unlikely to yield dividends is a general lack of international consensus to create global-sized solutions to environmental problems.

Activists say large-scale solutions are needed to combat environmental problems due to population growth and global warming, but criticize the U.N. conference participants for showing up to the much-heralded event without the political will to make meaningful change.

A wide variety of pundits and activists have panned the conference’s final document, issued Friday, for not living up to expectations. There will be a number of environmental conferences around the world in the coming years, with the largest coming in 2015. Many activists are reassessing their goals and hope to be able to build the political support for meaningful environmental agreements by then.

From now until then, Hmaidan would like to see Lebanon step up its role in the environmental field, adopt international goals and be a negotiator and mediator in discussions.

“We have in our nature strong diplomatic skills,” Hmaidan said. “We need to benefit from this skill and contribute to international regime building.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2012, on page 2.
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