At COP26, Iran Conditioned Limiting Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions on the Lifting of US Sanctions


 The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) took place from October 31  to November 12, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. At the COP26,  Iran asked for the US-led international sanctions to be lifted so  that it can access  climate finance through the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). Iran made no commitments to limit its economic activities contributing to global warming, and was absent  from the talks leading to the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact, which will speed up the pace of climate action.

Iran’s only noteworthy contribution  at COP26 was to present the findings of three nationally determined contribution reports as part of its obligations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This treaty was signed by 150 countries in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and its aim was to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. Iran was among the signatory countries, and then ratified it in 1994.

Post COP26, Iran has  taken no significant steps to limit  global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,  although it reportedly has a low-carbon economy program. In fact, the country is  currently a top emitter (1.85 percent), and was possibly the world’s third to eighth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the period between 2015 and 2021. It  was among the countries that signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement but did not ratify it.

 Iran’s heavy dependence  on fossil fuels  continues to motivate  its decisions to avoid signing the Glasgow Climate Pact.  More than 90 percent of Iran’s energy basket is in fact comprised of fossil fuels, making it difficult for it to transition to  cleaner energy sources.   Iran said it was “not satisfied with paragraph 36 on the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies,” in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

More importantly,  Iran’s reluctance to take positive steps to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels was heightened  when the nuclear deal it signed with the P5+1 in 2015 collapsed after Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 under the Trump administration. Karim Shafie,  Iran’s former deputy environment chief for legal affairs,  said that subject to the termination of the unfair and brutal sanctions and accessing international resources and technologies, the country has the potential of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions up to 12 percent.  

Since then, Iran has refused to be held accountable  for its poor environmental decisions,  nor has it taken any action to  address its severe environmental problems. Iran faces alarming levels of irreversible desertification, deforestation, reduced rainfall, and fires. Instead, Iran is silencing its environmental activists, an issue that was raised at the COP26  by anti-Iranian government  protestors. Since 2017, Iran has handed down lengthy  prison sentences  to dozens of environmental activists and scientists. Some have mysteriously died while in police custody and jail.  Concerned about facing  anticipated protests, or even worse, getting arrested for his role in the 1988 massacre of political opponents,  Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi  ditched plans to travel to Glasgow.

Environmental  experts predict that if Iran continues not to improve  its environmental standards and practices, its greenhouse gases will increase by 50 percent  in 2030. Iran is already emitting more than 600 million tons of greenhouse gases annually,  indicating high levels of energy inefficiency and consumption. Not surprisingly, Iran is considered to be among  the top ten pollutants in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pollution in the country is alarmingly on the rise, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

Such high levels of environmental neglect threaten Iran’s future,  making the government’s goal to reach a level of sustainable development  impossible, and  threatens the livelihoods of millions of people inside and beyond the country in the region. Iran is 80 percent arid or semi-arid and combined with reduced rainfall and endless dam building projects to preserve scarce water resources, the country is facing  a severe environmental disaster.

 Poor management and decision-making,  and not just the sanctions, have accounted  for most of Iran’s environmental problems. Still, Iran insists that it is imperative that the US administration lifts its sanctions before it meets its climate obligations.  Moreover, Iran refuses to consider  the role of its industrial processes that started nearly a century ago in contributing to rising temperatures in the country, long before it was subject to international sanctions at different periods. This suggests, along with the aforementioned facts, that the Iranian government, and not the sanctions, particularly those post 2018, has primarily contributed to the country’s dire environmental situation.

Editorial Team