By Maryam Qarehgozlou

‘We have damaged the environment and we have to do something about it’

December 13, 2017 - 11:56
Environment has no boundary: Kaveh Madani

TEHRAN — No political boundaries matter when it comes to the environment, said the Iranian deputy environment chief Kaveh Madani. 

“This is something that should not be affected by sanctions because environment has no boundary. No political boundaries matter when it comes to the environment. No time boundary matters because what we damage today would affect a lot of people tomorrow in another part of the world,” Madani told the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

“I think environment is a global challenge; it’s something that everyone agreed; no matter how the politics are we believe that we have damaged the environment and we have to do something about it, so environment can unite people and this is an opportunity,” the renowned Iranian scientist added.

Madani also referred to the implementation of the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a good opportunity for Iran to take advantage of the improvements in the international front to help its environment because there is “less conspiracy against the environment” and there is tendency for working together and improving it.

“There are a lot of people abroad, waiting and watching closely to see what’s going to happen. If I succeed, we might see more people coming back to help the government.”“But we have to still understand that we have significant challenges in getting international funds transferred to Iran to help its environment,” he regretted. 

“So this is absolutely unfair and should be changed and we hope that those who claim to be supportive of us internationally make special attention to this matter and help Iran improve its environment because we have shown our tendency to work with the world on our problems to make the world a better place,” the 2017 winner of the Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize said.

“Everyone in the region know that environmental security is a big challenge and we are seeing some unprecedented problems that we have never experienced before and we don’t know how to solve,” he warned. 

When asked about his job description Madani who has recently been appointed as the deputy chief of the department of environment for international affairs, innovation and socio-cultural engagement, pointed out that improving international relations and public engagement in addressing environment challenges are of his main responsibilities. 

“In short I would say improving international relations in line with national interests and public outreach, capacity building, public participation and engagement because this is what we believe we haven’t done in the right way, we haven’t put enough effort into capacity building, training, and raising the education level and of the public as well as people in the Department of Environment and these are the things we hope we can change,” 36-year-old deputy vice president explained. 

Keeping the right level of distance 

Speaking on the importance of interacting with NGOs, Madani said that “I think if you compare Iran with the neighboring countries we can be proud of the number of NGOs interested in environment, but we also need to understand that quantity and number don’t matter.”

“We have to make sure that we do things properly and at the moment I think we need to work on the NGOs and we have to make sure that what we call an NGO is really an NGO considering the international standards. And I hope that we can work closely with the NGOs while keeping the right level of distance between us and the NGOs because they need to remain non-governmental to be able to help us, to be able to ask us questions at the right moment and once we establish that culture I hope that we can do things in a better way,” the recipient of the 2016 Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Young Scientists suggested. 

“We definitely have come to a conclusion that what we have damaged over decades cannot be fixed in a few years but what we can change is the level of understanding of the people and their level of commitment and hope to improve the situation and make changes."He went on to say that “we definitely have come to a conclusion that what we have damaged over decades cannot be fixed in a few years but what we can change is the level of understanding of the people and their level of commitment and hope to improve the situation and make changes."

“The new head of the department Isa Kalantari has said that we need 80 million environmental rangers and I think that’s a right motto, goal and strategy for us clearly reflecting the understanding of the fact that everyone should help and unless we engage everyone and every Iranian on the planet, those who are inside and outside Iran, we cannot fix the problem,” Madani stated. 

 ‘I’m the representative of my generation, scientists and experts’

Madani who is a Reader (Professor) in Systems Analysis and Policy at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College London is now on leave of absence and agreed to come to Iran to work in the Department of Environment. Once Madani took office he faced a barrage of criticism came from a few environmental activists believing that a scientist must remain a scientist and should not take up office in order to be able to question the government’s measures in tackling environmental predicaments.

However, Madani, who himself said that it was a “tough decision”, finds himself as the representative of the scientists, experts and his generation who complain all the time that they have no role in the government.

“I don’t believe in the fact that a scientist should remain a scientist. Everywhere in the world now we are talking about the societal impacts and public outreach and unless we do those things we are not successful as scientists because we should impact the world and what’s a better opportunity than sitting at the right place and making sound decisions.”

“But once you take office, the level of bureaucracy and all the constraints and limitations you face might prevent you from implementing good things and then you lose the capacity to at least educate people, and that’s why I think some people think that I might be more effective sitting in my office in London rather than Tehran because I might not be able to even do what I was doing before,” Madani said.
“But for me, as a scientist, this is also a field study opportunity and to be selfish, I’m enjoying learning new things. I’m someone who has been working on decision making and conflicts and all the things that I’m dealing with today; if I knew those things in theory, now I’m feeling them in action and that’s another great thing."

“Here is my calculated risk. Let’s say that the chance of success is one percent; but I’m the representative of a generation who complains about having no role in the government, so if I succeed, I might open some doors for people of my age,” he highlighted, adding, “I’m the representative of scientists and experts who complain that those who are in charge don’t respect science; so if I succeed, there might be chance for experts to join the government.”

“I’m the representative of a generation who left the country and the whole country is complaining about losing this generation and brain drain. So if I’m back, that might be a benefit to the society, but more importantly, those who are here might learn that whoever that has left the country is a hater of the country or has fully lost his sense of belonging. We have a lot of people who are outside the country and their heart is still beating much stronger [for their country] than those who are in the country,” one of the ten New Faces of Civil Engineering in 2012 explained.

“There are a lot of people abroad, waiting and watching closely to see what’s going to happen. If I succeed, we might see more people coming back to help the government. We have had a lot of people coming back to work in industry and make money, so why not having people come back to help the country as we did some 38 years ago in 1979 [after the Islamic revolution]. So if the chance of success is minimal, the expected achievements still justify my decision,” he noted.

Assisting in water-related issues 

Madani who holds a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California has mainly directed his focus towards water-related issues. 

While he is mainly tasked with improving international cooperation and public engagement, Madani says that he has already got involved in water issues “because this has been an overlooked role.”

"The Department of Environment by legislation has a lot of roles to play when it comes to water policy, regulation, protection and allocation. Unfortunately, these have been unpracticed rights and duties so we've already got involved even though I’m in a separate deputy; I mean it’s not related to my deputy but the head has been already sending me to a lot of meetings with the Ministry of Energy on water-related issues and I’m glad that I have took part in my expertise area.” he said

He further noted that “I’m hoping the Department of Environment claims its water protection rights and this must be one of the reasons for Dr. Kalantari to get me into office.”

Addressing water bankruptcy requires ‘a change of perspective’

In his articles Madani has blamed water shortage partly on shortsightedness and inefficient management on government’s part. Asked if he thinks he can bring about any changes, however small, in the management Madani said that water bankruptcy requires “a change of perspective” and a switch from “supplying-oriented approaches to the demand-oriented approaches”. 

Madani who proposed the inclusion of the issue of water in the agenda of COP 24 in a statement delivered in the High-Level Segment of United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) on November 16 in Bonn, said that “I’ve always said that our water shortage is not because of nature but because of people, it’s anthropogenic, it’s a socio-economic drought or what I call water bankruptcy, that’s my term. Water bankruptcy requires a change of perspective and transition from supply-oriented approaches to demand-oriented ones. We need to cut consumption, cut our demand and fix that and that’s what I’m after, that’s what I pitch for and that’s what I’m trying to promote but in the meantime I’m trying to minimize the anthropogenic effects of bad decisions in the water sector on our wetlands, on our groundwater, on our rivers and so on.”

“We have this Persian expression; if you don't spell a word, there is no error and I think that applies here. It is easy to be a commentator and sit in office in London at a university and complain and nag about things and give prescriptions. What's hard is action and I wanted to feel the pain of those who make decisions and try to do things in the real world,” says Madani, who has recently been appointed as the vice president of the United Nations Environment Assembly 3 (UNEA-3) on behalf of the Asia-Pacific group.

Islamic world concerned about environment, determined to make changes

Madani who had also attended the 7th Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers in October said that “I’m glad that I made this observation, that the Islamic world is concerned about the environment and is determined to make some changes and understand that this part of the world needs more special attention to environmental matters and we have to play it right; we have to cooperate with the rest of the world on environmental issues.”

“Climate change was a big deal in this conference as well as water, unfortunately sand and dust storms were overlooked and we should be stronger when it comes to discussions on that and we should do better and looking at the prizes and the awards that people got I think the Islamic Republic of Iran should be more pro-active and should also promote research and the industries involved and active in environmental sectors, so the main outcome was reciting a lot of things that were said before about the environment, our actions, commitments and our determination to make the world a better place not only for the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Muslims but the rest of the world. And we understandably need to work with people of different religions and nationalities if we want to fix the environmental problems because they respect no boundaries no religion or culture,” Madani concluded. 



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