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George Mitri, Director, Land and Natural Resources Program, Institute of the Environment, University of Balamand


December 2021
Lebanon in COP26: Silver Linings in the Global Climate Regime

The 26th conference of the parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention to Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened in Glasgow, United Kingdom, from October 31 to November 13, 2021 and was attended by more than 120 heads of state. Even though COP26 was regarded as a “pivotal moment in the fight against climate change”—after two years of interrupted negotiations due to the COVID pandemic—the outcomes of the conference received mixed reviews. Some considered encouraging progress was made, while others were disappointed by the results, especially given the urgency of the crisis.
 
COP26 in a Nutshell
Some of the silver linings in the conference included: 1) the mention of terms such as “fossil fuels” and “coal” for the first time in a COP outcome document, 2) additional pledges declared by countries, which would put the earth on a 2.4°C warming trajectory by the end of this century—an improvement on the 2.7°C warming trajectory estimated prior to COP26, and 3) a commitment from the countries meeting in Glasgow to issue stronger 2030 climate plans next year, in a bid to avert dangerous global warming. Several countries, including India, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates declared long-term, net-zero goals, leading to almost 90 per cent of world emissions now being covered by a net-zero target. In addition, many flagship initiatives were launched, such as the COP26 global deforestation pledge, committed to by more than 100 countries, including Lebanon. The fact that words were backed up by “real money”[1] is also promising, although details of disbursement have not yet been provided.
 
For the detractors, the commitments are still far from putting the world on a 1.5°C warming trajectory, which is needed to avoid the dire consequences of climate extremes, especially in the most vulnerable developing countries. Yet, the COP26 declaration included a call to all countries to ratchet-up their commitments to cut emissions, in an attempt to keep within reach the global warming limit of 1.5°C. Participating countries were, therefore, urged to show stronger commitments by updating their 2030 pledges by next year’s COP27.
 
Even though the rapid “phase-out” of coal was central to the COP26 deliberations, the final decision text—known as the Glasgow Climate Pact—included a watered down “phasing down,” after India and other countries pushed to weaken the language on coal.
 
It also became clear that high-income countries wouldn’t be able to deliver on their promise of $100 billion of climate finance a year to lower-income countries, at least until 2023. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only $80 billion was delivered as of 2019, a quarter of which was for adaptation.[2] This lead several countries to express their “deep regret” about financial commitments. Consequently, it was agreed to negotiate a new plan in the next three years for what a future climate finance target should look like beyond 2025.
 
Unfortunately, the conference stopped short of accepting a proposal calling for a new fund for “loss and damage,” which constitutes part of the financial compensation from higher-income to lower-income countries due to climate impacts. Nevertheless, nations promised to continue negotiating funding possibilities for “loss and damage.” Until then, low-income countries will continue their struggle on their own in the face of climate-related disasters.
 
Lebanon Risks
Despite its existing challenges, Lebanon was represented during COP26 with a small delegation headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in addition to the minister of environment and the minister of foreign affairs. Speaking at the conference, Mikati warned that the impact of climate change on Lebanon would be devastating, stressing that adaptation and mitigation are key to Lebanon’s development plan and adding that a low emission and climate resilient strategy is under preparation. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin, for his part, indicated that action on climate change must be at the heart of Lebanon’s recovery from the financial crisis.
 
Despite its persistent political, economic, and financial crises, Lebanon cannot afford to ignore climate change challenges (with impacts ranging from water stress to increasing extreme weather events), which will eventually intensify and compound the country’s multiple crises. One example are the devastating forest fires that the country has been increasingly witnessing in recent years which have damaged more than 12,650 hectares of natural landscape between 2019 and 2021 only. Unprecedented fires have also affected Lebanon’s cedar forests for the first time in recorded history.
 
Ambitious Commitment
Ahead of COP26, Lebanon submitted an ambitious update to its 2015 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), in accordance with Article 4.9 of the Paris Agreement (and Law 115/2019), at a time when the country is facing a severe economic and financial crisis. Lebanon, therefore, committed to unconditionally increase its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target relative to the Business-as-Usual (BAU) scenario from 15% to 20%, as well as conditionally increase its GHG emission reduction target relative to the BAU scenario from 30% to 31%. The updated NDC’s adaptation priorities included strengthening the agricultural sector’s resilience; ensuring sustainable use of natural resources, including forests; developing sustainable water services; managing terrestrial and marine biodiversity; reducing vulnerability of coastal zones; ensuring public health safety; and reducing disaster risk.
 
Furthermore, the Government of Lebanon in its ministerial statement acknowledged the importance of climate change, with a commitment to diversify energy sources, in order to give priority to natural gas and renewable energy. The ministerial statement also included a clause calling for a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, protecting water sources from all types of pollution, developing a national strategy for solid waste management, supporting the green economy, combatting air pollution, and re-committing to the Paris Climate Agreement.
 
Fulfilling such commitments, however, will require courageous and radical choices in politics and the economy.
 
Green Recovery Plan
As a green recovery plan is vital to ensuring a sustainable and resilient return to growth and development, Lebanon has the opportunity to devise such a plan, in addition to accessing climate finance and developing strategic partnerships.

In 2020, the Lebanese government adopted a financial recovery plan, which acknowledged the need for environmental reform, and an economic development strategy to preserve the environmental identity of the country, which has the potential of becoming a socio-economic engine. However, this falls short of a typical green recovery plan.
 
An effective green recovery plan can be an opportunity for the economic recovery of the country. Incentives for both the private and public sectors to move towards renewable energy and energy efficiency are already imbedded in the current energy crisis that the country is experiencing. An enabling environment for green investments and local innovation in cleantech should be further enhanced.
 
A 2021 study by UNDP on climate proofing three Lebanon plans (i.e., the CEDRE-CIP plan, the McKinsey Lebanon Economic Vision, and the Government Financial Recovery Plan) showed how climate proofing priority projects delivers $3.2 for every $1 invested in mitigation and adaptation enhancement. The benefits, as a result of mitigation intervention, include better air quality, reduced climate change, and the preservation of biodiversity. The benefits, as a result of adaptation intervention, include a reduction in future environmental losses, foregone economic activity, and deaths or injuries.
 
Most importantly, Lebanon must prepare a comprehensive strategy for climate change similar to other countries in the region, such as Tunisia and United Arab Emirates, which would allow for identifying sectoral climate risks, prioritizing adaptation actions, and identifying needs.
 
Access to Climate Finance
The current financial crisis means that domestic financing is scarce. Climate finance provides Lebanon with potential avenues for development through international support for mitigation and adaptation action, either bilaterally or through the international climate regime. Lebanon has to be well prepared with a clear agenda and priorities in order to access climate finance, such as the Adaptation Fund (AF) or that of the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C). Also, Lebanon has the opportunity to tap into funding opportunities launched by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for the High Impact Partnership for Climate Action (HIPCA) trust fund.
 
Glasgow gave new hopes for adaptation finance, where high-income countries agreed that by 2025, they aim to double adaptation finance to about $40 billion a year. In addition, countries agreed to work out in future talks a new global adaptation goal, which is expected to come with new finance opportunities. Accordingly, Lebanon needs to immediately begin the development of its national adaptation plan by involving all sectors. As such, UNDP Lebanon is supporting the Ministry of Environment in its efforts to access funds from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to prepare a national adaptation plan.
 
Overall, developing the Lebanon Green Investment Facility (LGIF), with the objective of increasing financing flows into green projects, is a good starting point. This facility is expected to leverage green finance through innovative financial instruments and institutional design. In his COP26 speech, Mikati announced that the LGIF could be the starting point for investment in future, if the Government of Lebanon is able to restore the trust of potential investors.
 
Strategic Partnerships
As the Government of Lebanon is prioritizing the ease of doing business in its financial recovery plan, the role of Non-State Actors (NSAs) is key to implement climate action. In this context, the Lebanon Climate Act (LCA) established a network of companies and institutions with the aim of involving the private sector in the broader climate change community. Yet, scaling-up existing partnerships with NSAs, including both the private sector and civil society organizations, is essential to enable their increased involvement in climate mitigation and adaptation actions across the different sectors.
 
Meanwhile, climate diplomacy is now turning its attention towards Egypt, which will host the next UN climate summit—COP27—in 2022. The issues of climate finance, adaptation, loss and damage, and transparency are expected to be high on the list of priorities at COP27. All are of particular importance to Lebanon and other developing countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change. With an expected emphasis on developing country concerns, Lebanon must see COP27 as a golden opportunity to engage the country’s stakeholders on climate change, to ensure that national priorities are clear ahead of the negotiations. As COP27 is hosted by an Arab country, Lebanon must also take advantage of all opportunities available to join regional efforts and forge strategic partnerships and alliances in order achieve the best possible outcome from this important gathering.  

[1] The declaration included a Global Forest Finance Pledge, under which 11 countries and the European Union committed to provide $12 billion in funding “to help unleash the potential of forests and sustainable land use,” while private-sector funding will add $7.2 billion.
[2] Adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts.








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