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25 professors to lead initiative
By Tamara Qiblawi
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

BEIRUT: The American University of Beirut (AUB) hosted a conference over the weekend to launch a new research forum that aims to study climate change in the Arab world with the aim of improving public policy. The conference, held at College Hall at AUB on Saturday, was led by the director of the Issam Fares Institute for International Affairs and Policy (IFI), Rami Khouri, and the director general of the Environment Ministry, Berj Hatjian.

The "Research and Policy Forum on Climate Change in the Arab World" is a collaborative effort between AUB and IFI and is led by a core group of 25 professors. Members of the Environment Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the United Nations Development Program are also participants in the forum.

"We feel that by putting our minds together, we can change policies," Khouri said in a speech that opened the conference. 

Hatjian then provided a description of the current and past government policies in Lebanon that aim to address climate change, praising the efforts of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet to promote awareness about the issue.

Hatjian said that even though Lebanon ranked low in the Economic Sustainability Index of the 2005 World Economic Forum, it ranked 35th worldwide in the Environmental Performance Index of 2006.  

Hatjian pointed out that the Environment Ministry has been operating without minister for over a year. Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf resigned from the Cabinet in November last year, along with five other opposition ministers.


He also spoke about the limitations of institutional capacities and a lack of cooperation between government ministries and civil society. One of the objectives of the action plan, he said, would be to put the issues of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, to which Lebanon is signatory, into the Lebanese "mainstream."

"Key to implementing a strategic action plan is anchoring sustainable development into development priorities and policies," said Makdisi, "this is fundamental."

The speakers of the conferences issued a collective call on the government to "operationalize" Law 444 for the Protection of the Environment.