EghtesadOnline: Sustainable development has hardly been a priority in Iran as it is almost always sacrificed at the altar of concerns like creating jobs and boosting industries at any price, not to mention anachronistic concerns, says head of the Department of Environment.
"If we talk about environmental issues, it is largely because it has emerged as a global problem and our policymakers want to demonstrate that we are not lagging behind. In reality it is simply a showoff," Isa Kalantari told the Persian-language economic newspaper Donya-e-Eqtesad, the sister publication of Financial Tribune.
Elaborating the point, he added that carmakers are manufacturing engines that fail to comply with environmental standards and their justification is that they are fighting unemployment. “Nobody dares to challenge them and say that their vehicles have endangered the environment.” What is weird is that people line up to buy such cars and often make advance bookings!
"Our office (DOE) is seen as a nuisance when it comes to economic development," he recalled, adding that the DOE is among the least influential institutions in the country that is why sustainable development is visibly lacking in the country.
Time and again the government has ratified protocols to protect and promote the environment and air pollution safeguards, but in less than six months it has reversed the decisions because of mounting pressure from factory owners and vested interests, he rued.
Kalantari said it is indeed regrettable that policymakers insist on creating jobs at the expense of hurting the environment and are often oblivious of the fact that destruction of the environment will certainly have adverse effects on economic development in the long run.
Misusing the environment at the expense of economic development is usually seen in the third world. "But we tend to claim that Iran is a developing country."
The DOE boss put the blame squarely on senior officials and decision-makers, most of whom are hardly educated in environmental sciences, concepts or principles.
"They still believe that the DOE's main responsibility is and should be protecting endangered species and controlling the air quality!”
Of Paramount Importance
Water management is of paramount importance for several reasons, namely the development of water bodies for future generations, protection of existing water resources from pollution and over exploitation.
“This is while the Energy Ministry is still in charge of water and related issues and the DOE has no role in this sphere.”
Kalantari was asked why those in charge had failed to address the water crisis that has been a major source of concern for decades.
"There are several relevant strategies across the world, but unfortunately we do not adopt and adapt because our policymakers think they are more erudite. We have the (wrong) impression that we know everything and thus our decisions are not based on scientific fact."
There was a time when policy and decision makers presumed that renewable water resources are forever and would never deplete in Iran. Now they have come to realize, albeit very late that that presumption was a major error, he said.
Based on global standards, annual extraction from renewable water resources should not exceed 40% of countries' resources. This figure is Iran is 110% because the top priority of senior state and government officials ostensibly is job creation.
Academia, environmentalists and prominent economists have often warned against old and traditional farming practices that have been proved to be highly water intensive. Experts often point out that water is being extracted much faster than it can be replenished. Policymakers of different stripes have demonstrated that they have no time so such warnings.
The DoE chief does not play with words. His stance is unambiguous: So long as long-term national interest is sacrificed at the altar of self-interest, sustainable development can never take place and nor can environment challenges ever be addressed.