Combatting climate change and investing in the energy sector in Lebanon: a win-win situation

The Arab world is one of the world’s most water scarce and dry regions and extremely vulnerable to climate change. While the influence of climate change on the current drought is not conclusive, many scientists predict irregular weather patterns including drought, flooding, rising sea level, among others. This will have major implications on food security and could cause famine and poverty in the region. The Arab population could face severe water stress causing massive migration. In Lebanon, sea level rise could displace 2 million people and cause $35 billion in damages.

Climate change does not rank high on the priorities of the Lebanese government and public in general, due to more urgent security and economic challenges that the country is currently facing. Although Lebanon’s contribution to total world GHG emissions is negligible, it is still susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Over the past few years irregular weather events such as floods and less snow cover have been observed in the country and the region.

Despite Lebanon’s insignificant role in total world GHG emissions, its government has ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 as well as most of the subsequent treaties. However, little progress has been made in abating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and no significant adaptive measures have been taken to confront any of the impacts the country will be facing in the near future. During the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Phase, only 6 projects were initiated Lebanon, leading to a reduction of a mere 645,417 tons of CO2 in the energy sector. This constitutes only 0.003% of Lebanon’s 2000 GHG inventory, estimated at 18.5 million tons of CO2 emissions, more than half of which are produced by the energy sector.  The Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA), the successor of CDM, is not faring much better. There are only three NAMAs proposed by Lebanon, and even those are still in the feasibility stage. It is safe to conclude that local project-based mechanisms for emission reduction are weak.

Mitigation measures in the Lebanese energy sector will have the highest impact on total GHG emissions. The figure below shows that energy production the more than half the country’s emissions.

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Source: Lebanon’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC, 2011

To curb emissions from the energy sector, the Ministry of Energy and Water has set the following goals by 2020:

  • At least 12% of the fuel mix from by renewable energy
  • Natural gas makes up two thirds of the fuel mix

GHG emissions in the energy sector are not the only problem of the local energy sector. The government owned Electricity Company of Lebanon (EDL) has been a financial disaster for decades. The company operates at an annual loss of $US 1 billion and is still incapable of providing 24-hour electricity to the residents of Lebanon, over 20 years after the end of the civil war. This has resulted in an industry of private generators to offset the government shortage. Due to their informal nature, the GHG of emissions from these generators have not been included in the 2000 GHG inventory. The average household in Lebanon is burdened by two electricity bills, one to EDL and one to the private generator operators. The average amount paid is about $4,500 a year.

Investing in proper physical and institutional infrastructure, as well as renewable energy projects, should be a priority for the country. Energy is only one of the sectors in Lebanon that needs to be addressed; more can be done by tackling the others. The government needs to engage with all the stakeholders and develop long term strategies that will help Lebanon mitigate and adapt to climate change.

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