Sunday, April 6, 2014

Japan and Iran for the Environment


"We failed 40 years ago on environmental issues, then we changed our policies, then we had no ministry for the environment , now we have the best standards the Japanese Diet is very serious about environmental regulations". The were the words spoken by the speaker of Japan's parliament in our meeting on last Friday in Tokyo. Tokyo' s most beautiful attraction is Sakora or the cherry blossoms which lasts only one week and  coincided with our visit.
I was in Tokyo to sign a joint memorandum of cooperation on environment and to visit Japanese authorities. I had a chance to visit Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on the first day and to meet with top private sector leaders on environment technologies. I spoke at the Japan Naional Press Club and responded to questions from journalists. We signed the joint MOC in the Ministry Of Environment in Tokyo.That day was the 13 th of Nowroz or Nature Day in Iran. On the second day I had a visit to a very successful power plant with over 65% efficiency and to a water purification plant with many innovations.
 I then spoke at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation on "Iran in the Era of Moderation" , they were interested to hear about the recent developments in internal and foreign policy. I spoke about the resolve of the President to improve relations with the world and about environmental diplomacy. 
We had a meeting with Prime Minister Abe in which he stressed upon his agreement with Dr. Rouhani to work on the environment . 
I then spoke at the UN University in Tokyo on Environmental Challenges , I also mentioned the need for dialogue and understanding in today's world referring to the approach that a prominent Iranian philosopher Shahabedin Sohrevardi took to find common roots between Iranian , Greek and Islamic 
I also met with the Parliament speaker, the Foreign Affairs vice Minister and many private sector officials including the International Friendship Group. I had the  chance to ride an electric car as well. 
I believe that since environmental issues are of a global nature all members of the international community need to work to improve those conditions. 

Although the work load and meetings were very tight and we lost alot of sleep but we enjoyed our visit. I hope that this visit will  enhance collaboration and open way for better environmental conditions in Iran and more peace and security in our region.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Golestan in Nowroz


Golestan province is located in the north of Iran close to the border of Turkemenistan and also the Caspian sea. This province has a unique climatic and ethnic diversity. Gomishan International Wetland, Alagol, Almagol and Agigol wetlands are among the beautiful sites for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that arrive each year. Golestan National Park is also one of the most important reservoirs of biodiversity, including pristine natural forests which are "relic" due to their historical significance. Turkemens are one of our important ethnic populations who have more or less preserved their traditional lifestyles.Their traditional attire, arts and handicrafts as well as their talent in breeding horses in this region all indicate how appropriately they have preserved their culture. I visited Golestan during Nowroz vacations, and had the chance to meet our DOE Rangers in our protected, areas and most important two of them who were seriously injured last month by a group of illegal poachers in our protected areas. Although I had visited Golestan several times before but again we visited places we had not seen before and awsome scenery that reflected the magnificent powers of the wilderness. I hope to make serious efforts in collaboration with local authorities and people to protect and wisely manage the natural resources and biodiversity of Iran.


Kalaleh, Gorgan River
Kahkeshan Heights , Border of Shahrood
Rangelands

Almagol Wetland

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Visit to Muscat

Enhancing relations with the world and neighbours has been the hallmark of  Dr. Rouhani's foreign policy. I joined the President and some members of his cabinet for his visit to Oman this week. Strengthening of bilateral relations and promoting mutual interest were on the agenda. Peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region and better economic relations are among the major objectives of this visit. In addition to an official welcome ceremony in the Royal Palace, and official reception and talks, we made several individual meetings . I met the Omani Minister of Environment and we spoke about the importance  of  joint training and educational activities as well as cooperation under international conventions. 
We signed an MOU on bilateral cooperation  for environmental activities this morning in the Ministry of Environment. I also paid a visit to the Qorum Protected  Area, which is a coastal wetland in Muscat. Later, I took part in the meeting of the President with local University Faculty members. Dr. Rouhani spoke about the importance of countering terrorism and extremism in the region. He emphasised upon the indispensible role of Academics in this regard. Favorable relations between our two countries can play a strategic role in enhancing prosperity and promoting peace in the Persian Gulf region.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

AlMonitor Interview

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (R) meets with Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Baghdad, Feb. 2, 2014.  (photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Iran's environment VP to Al-Monitor: 'We lost eight years'

Tehran, the overpopulated and heavily polluted capital city of Iran, is in constant struggle withenvironmental issues. Among the most drastic and dangerous issues is the city's ever-present pollution, which worsens in winter, causing schools and offices to close on some days, and prompting officials to caution residents — in particular children, the elderly and sick — to refrain from leaving their home.

President Hassan Rouhani has invested his hopes in Masoumeh Ebtekar to resolve these issues. Ebtekar, 53, was the first woman to become a Cabinet member and a vice president after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ebtekar, who spent part of her childhood in the United States and attended an American school in Tehran afterward, became a well-known face during the hostage crisis. Due to her fluency in English, she was the spokeswoman and translator for the hostage-takers.

Ebtekar is a scientist and previously served as editor-in-chief of Keyhan newspaper's English edition from 1981 to 1983. She has written books, articles and scientific papers on her domain of expertise — the environment — and she has also co-written an English-language book, titled Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 US Embassy Capture, on the hostage crisis and in response to the book Argo.

Under former President Mohammad Khatami, Ebtekar was a Cabinet member and head of the governmental Environmental Protection Organization for eight years. In 2007, she became a Reformist council member for the Tehran City Council, where she served until 2013 while maintaining her position as a university professor.

Following the 2013 election of Rouhani — whose candidacy she supported — there were speculations about her being tapped for the minister of science position. But she again assumed office as a vice president, and returned to head the Environmental Protection Organization.

Ebtekar has received several international awards and has been recognized for her efforts in protecting the environment, though she was also widely criticized for a paper she wrote in 2008, on the grounds that she had copied the material from previously published papers. The journal pulled her paper and apologized, and Ebtekar herself admitted that she had "made a mistake."

On Jan. 15, she was asked to speak before Friday prayers in Tehran about the topic of clean air. Shortly after, it was announced that her speech was canceled, with no explanation as to why.

I spoke with Ebtekar about serious environmental and pollution challenges in Iran, and most of all, its capital. The interview was conducted over the phone in Farsi, and the following is an English translation.

Al-Monitor:  What is the first step in addressing pollution issues in Iran?

Ebtekar:  Tracking the root of pollution in Iran creates an in-depth understanding of it. Our society is a transitioning one — one that has, in fact, transformed at great speed from a traditional society dependent on agriculture to an industrialized, oil-dependent urban one. Such a transition requires enough resources to educate people and create the type of culture required for practical urban life, which has not been provided to our citizens, at least not as much as it should have been. Citizens' cooperation is vital in reducing the extent of pollution.

Al-Monitor Why, in your opinion, is there insufficient cooperation from Iranian citizens in this regard?

Ebtekar:  To cooperate, people need to trust their government. They also need to know the details of decisions and priorities. Another important element is the active presence and effective role of nongovernmental organizations, which is what we in the current administration value greatly. President Rouhani's focus on ecological issues and related shortcomings is significant; for which I am grateful. 

Al-Monitor:  You have made 12 trips to different provinces in Iran since you assumed office in the Rouhani administration. In what way do you believe them to have been mostly fruitful?

Ebtekar:  One of the matters on which I have focused during these trips and will continue to focus on, is engaging with grassroots organizations and our need to rely on their help. People have generally become more hopeful and expect further engagement and transparency regarding data and planning, which we will provide with the hope of facilitating this cooperation and creating a fruitful mutual relationship in working on environmental issues. 

Al-Monitor:  Do you have faith in succeeding at improving the pollution in Iran's bigger cities, most significantly in Tehran?

Ebtekar:  The problem of pollution would have been resolvable with proper planning. I had overseen the planning a decade ago, and it was to be carried out over a time period of 10 years, which, for whatever reason, did not happen under the previous administration. Targeted subsidies and planning projects aimed at further improving the polluted air situation of busy cities will hopefully help. We must have faith, and we need to trust collective thinking and cooperation.

Al-Monitor:  Are there any cities that have experienced similar problems to Tehran and have succeeded in solving them? Could you benefit from their ideas and experiences in this regard?

Ebtekar:  Tehran's nature is one of the most beautiful in the world, particularly thanks to the Alborz Mountains, which are, at the moment, snow-capped and even prettier than usual. These same mountains, however, act similarly to a bowl surrounding Tehran and obstruct sufficient air flow, thus adding to the amount of pollution. 

Mexico City had similar problems in the past. It is also a similar city to Tehran from the viewpoint of urban patterns and structural aspects. They have managed to solve a major part of their issues, and we were making efforts to learn from both their strong and their weak points. All of these efforts were disrupted eight years ago. We need to restart the planning process and act according to the increased number of people living in Tehran. 

Al-Monitor:  You have criticized Iran's petrochemical sector, saying that international standards are not met in refining petroleum products, resulting in nonstandard gasoline in cars, which contribute in a major way to the pollution in busy cities. What is the latest on this? 

Ebtekar:  We have no problem in communicating effectively with the current Ministry of Petroleum. [Oil Minister Bijan] Zanganeh is a very committed, precise and knowledgeable person, and we are working closely with his ministry to make up for lost time and the work on which we have fallen behind. 

Our deputies have regular meetings considering such matters. A major problem we have with standardized, or lack thereof, fuel, is rooted in vehicles and their consumption structure. Both imported and domestic cars have some serious shortcomings, of which the auto industry and importers have been warned. Some have requested an extension to correct the failures, but regardless of the amount of time they need to correct these engineering, manufacturing or design issues, we are geared up to take serious action to implement the Euro 4 standards starting this spring.

Al-Monitor:  What is your take on the proposal to resolve Tehran's issues by moving the country's capital to another city?

Ebtekar:  There are mixed ideas and feelings about this. There is the potential to create some other problems, even if such a proposal goes through. It's difficult to predict the extent of benefits such a move would have.

There is, however, no doubt about Tehran's serious overpopulation, being a city that reached its ecological resource limitations in 1996, and a city where water needs to be imported from other parts of the country, due to its drastic water shortage.

Al-Monitor:  Is biking an option for Tehran residents? Do you consider it practical enough to be encouraged?

Ebtekar:  There is one district of Tehran — the 8th District — that has bicycle lanes and safety measures for those who wish to rent a bike from the station, pay the rental fee with a credit card and leave the bike in the bike station at a metro stop.

There are some other areas of Tehran in which we are working on providing the necessary amenities and implementing safety measures for cycling — riding conventional or electric bicycles, or electric motorcycles — to become feasible. There are obstacles, though. One is that Tehran, as it is mostly inclined and not flat, could not be considered a cycling-friendly city, generally speaking. The other is Tehran's high pollution levels, which make the city's air dangerous to breathe on some days. On such days, being outdoors, and especially exercising, may lead to health hazards, so we strongly discourage such activities.



Friday, February 14, 2014

Iran Enviro Exhibition


Dr. Jahangiri, the current first VP, was the Minister of Industry and Mines during President Khatami when he agreed to outphase and stop the production of Peykan the popular, but polluting Iranian car in 2002. That measure was a milestone in Iran's surge to upgrade its car production and compete in global markets. I mentioned that point yesterday in the inaugural ceremony of the 13th Iran Enviro Exhibition in Tehran. Dr. Jahangiri and the Minister of Nature Protection of Armenia Mr. Hartounian were our special guests. The Ambassador of Italy also spoke on the readiness of Italian companies to work in Iran on environmental technologies. The strategy of promoting the green economy was embraced by Dr. Rouhani during his election campaign and we have taken several important steps in the DOE pursuant to that strategy including the revival of the "Environment Fund of Iran", incorporating important environmental policies in the budget, and convening the exhibition with the theme of green economy. We started late but the event was well received by both private sector and government sectors, NGOs also had a pavilion and were very visible.I spent over 6 hours in the exhibition visiting the booths and talking with people about what they had done for the environment. Corporations were active in fields like recycling, renewable energies, water and wastewater treatment technologies, education and advocacy. Many Iranians now consider the environment as a priority and this is an opportunity for the nation.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A visit to Iraq

Normalcy has returned to Baghdad in some districts, while in many others tight security measures and fear from terrorist attacks has disrupted normal life. The unsettling scenes we saw in Iraq were the remnants of decades long dictatorship and the terrible "awe and fear" operations of Mr. Bush. 
Heading a delegation from the Iranian DOE and invited by the Iraqi Minister of Environment , we visited Iraq last week. We met with high level officials including, The Prime Minister, Parliament Speaker Vice President, Foreign Minister, UNAMI Representative and Minister of Womens Affairs.
 After initial negotiations on environmental priorities, we came up with a joint implementation plan consisting of items related to education and training, monitoring and mitigation of dust storms, and international cooperation. We also decided to create three transboundary national parks to protect our common biodiversity on the borders. Our Iraqi hosts were very kind and while many, among them top officials, had lived in Iran for long times during Saddam's rule, they spoke Arabic ,Farsi and since one member of the delegation spoke Kurdish, we had a diversity of languages and cultures during meetings. Prime Minister Nouri Maleki emphasised on the importance of environmental cooperation and mentioned the resolve of his government to collaborate and to implement projects to control hot spots initiating dust storms. We also planted trees along a street in Karbala. The pilgrmage to visit four Imams ie. Imam Ali,Imam Hussein, Imam Musa Kazem and Imam Javad was inspiring. Since it was the first chance for all of us, we enjoyed this part of the trip as well. Security was very tight in all our visits and our Ambassador Mr. Danaeifar did a great job to make this visit beneficial in promoting bilateral relations