Expert: Protecting environment necessary for economic prosperity

Tehran, Sep 24, IRNA - Economic growth would be constrained if countries do not manage and protect their environmental assets, as a strong natural capital base is necessary for economic prosperity, said an environment expert.
Cameron Hepburn Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a recent exclusive interview with Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that the environmental economics can play a significant role in coordinating the economic progress and environmental measures. According to him, there are three ways in which the science can contribute to the goal.

'First, research shows that up to a certain point, countries can grow and develop by exploiting their natural resources. However, wealthy countries carefully manage and protect all of their environmental assets, because a strong natural capital base is necessary for economic prosperity;

Second, it has long been understood by environmental economists that if precious natural assets have no economic value - no price - or a price that is too low, they are often over used or destroyed. Classic example is that frequently water is priced too low (which seems to be the case also in Iran) and where resource rich economies price their oil and gas too cheaply and hence much of it is wasted;

'Third, we have found that environmental technological innovations are important in creating value, whether in increasing energy efficiency, in using satellites to monitor natural assets, or in the progress in materials science that is leading to such dramatic falls in the cost of solar energy. We discussed these in some depth at the Pasargad Summer School at Khatam University on Sunday. This should be a real win for Iran given you have such an abundant solar resource.'

Describing water and natural resources as two factors underpinning human existence and well being, the expert said that greater economic growth does not necessarily mean more pressure on the natural environment if we do things in a clever way.

At the same time he stressed that 'without structural changes to the model of economic growth, greater growth implies greater natural resources use and greater risk of environmental problems.'

The main challenges we have, are with the resources that are underpriced, such as climate stability, ecosystem function, clean air and clean water, not those that are priced, according to him.

'If we don't tackle these problems, including by either allowance trading systems and/or other government regulation, growth will eventually be constrained,' he added.

On The Paris agreement, signed in by 194 parties, Hepburn said, it was a 'helpful start' that addresses climate change, and, so far, includes pledges from countries that represent a first step towards limiting extreme heat waves, droughts and other water-related problems, such as those relating to Lake Urmia.'

The expert also admired environmental efforts by Iran on the international arena, especially since the historic nuclear agreement with major world powers in 2015.

'Iran still has some important challenges in its energy system, on local air pollution and on water availability, and it is encouraging to see that you are starting to make some efforts to improve these problems. However, a great deal more needs to be done,' he added.

On Lake Urmia revival, the environment expert said that Iran needs to 'build trust with the key stakeholders - including in the agricultural sector who are using water for production - to build a shared understanding of the problem and then to craft an agreement on a set of changes that will make almost everyone better off.'

This requires more than merely technical economics and policymaking, but efforts at outreach, conversation, education and listening to build the social consensus around a set of solutions that are right for the country, according to the Oxford University professor.