Decades of US sanctions have severely hampered Iran’s efforts to address environmental challenges that could alter the country’s economic, social and political landscape.
Air and water pollution, desertification, land degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity are among the pressing environmental challenges in Iran.
Although the impact of US sanctions has been widely documented, very little has been said about the myriad challenges they pose to the already deteriorating environment of the Islamic Republic.
Researchers from the Center for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London acknowledge that sanctions do not independently cause environmental degradation in a targeted country, but that the secondary impacts of sanctions can inadvertently act as “catalysts”. which lead to environmental problems.
Shirin Hakim, a doctoral student at Imperial College London who studies the impact of sanctions on Iran’s environment, says the sanctions have gone so far as to target critical sectors of the country’s economy, such as the energy, shipping, automotive, aviation and financial sectors, which are crucial for sustainable development and human prosperity.
“As a result of the sanctions, Iran was effectively cut off from the international banking system and many of its crucial assets were frozen overseas,” Hakim told Anadolu Agency.
“Furthermore, the sanctions against Iran have contributed to the devaluation of its local currency, increased inflation rates and a significant drop in foreign direct investment, as many leading international companies in technology and sustainable development experts are afraid to enter Iran at the risk of sanctions from the United States.”
Loss of biodiversity
At a time when the Iranian capital was blanketed in a thick layer of smog, attention has again shifted to the serious environmental challenges facing the country.
Tehran is now among the ten most polluted cities in the world. However, pollution is not the only obstacle to sustainable development in Iran.
“Water scarcity has entered a critical phase, in part due to decades of isolation, poor management of local resources and the consequences of prolonged drought,” says Hakim.
Iran’s agricultural sector, she argues, depends on “outdated technology and knowledge”, both of which hamper the country’s ability to effectively manage its changing landscape.
The alarming rise in pollution levels in Tehran, she says, is due to “poor quality oil and heavy industrial activity”, while dust and sandstorms have also contributed.
“Iran is in the midst of significant biodiversity loss, land degradation, water pollution and desertification,” Hakim warns.
Experts believe that Iran’s environmental future can be protected and preserved through public and private sector collaboration. However, sanctions play spoilsport.
“When a country is in the throes of sanctions, the bare necessities, such as food supplies, medical care and the maintenance of the local economy, become a priority, and issues such as the environment lose their relevance. importance,” says Hakim.
“As a result, we see that the percentage of the national budget spent on environmental efforts in Iran has decreased, leaving less funding for biodiversity conservation.
“Operating with fewer economic resources makes it increasingly difficult for the government to not only hire, but also provide employees with the equipment and monitoring technologies needed to preserve biodiversity,” she says.
In 2014, grant funding of more than $7.6 million for several multi-year projects developed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a subsidiary of the World Bank, was blocked following sanctions Americans. This funding was intended to cover biodiversity conservation projects in Iran.
With the Donald Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, solving environmental problems has become more difficult, Hakim believes.
However, Iran must fully recognize the trade-offs between its economy and its environment.
“Much can be done to protect the environment by increasing public education and accountability, allocating greater
budgetary allocations to environmental efforts and the promotion of the efficient use of natural resources”, explains the researcher.
Hakim believes that addressing Iran’s spatial distribution issues to reduce pressure on certain areas of the country and maintaining enforcement of existing environmental regulations can also help the effort.
She believes that less attention is paid to the impact of sanctions on the environment, as the association is not direct and more difficult to identify than other impacts directly associated with the economic crisis, such as unemployment.
“Nevertheless, as we live in a world where the use of economic coercion and trade wars is on the increase and where the fight against climate change is recognized as an issue of shared global importance, I envision that a greater Much attention will be given to the impact of economic tools, such as sanctions, on sustainable development,” says Hakim.
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