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An Introduction to Addressing Environmental Conflict and Challenges in Iran

Photo: Nikahang Kowsar

Environmental issues in Iran have been a growing concern in recent years, with a range of problems including air pollution, water scarcity, and desertification. These issues have a significant impact on the health and well-being of the population, as well as the country's economy and environment. Environmental scientists and activists inside and outside Iran and environmental executive journalists at the outset believed in bad governance for decades. They would like to act accordingly and do their best in this critical time to help both decision-makers and the public to be aware of the situation, to establish a modern and integrated accountability protocol around the development plans and their impact on climate, climate change, and adaptability and resilience and consider future generations when it comes to development and economic growth. We must work to protect and preserve our environment for future generations by improving governance in environmental protection policies. Bad governance in environmental protection policies in Iran has led to numerous environmental problems in the country. The government has failed to enforce effective regulations and implement sustainable practices, resulting in air pollution, water pollution, soil degradation, and other environmental issues.

Air pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues in Iran. The country has one of the world’s highest levels of air pollution, with particulate matter (PM) levels exceeding the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines in many cities. Iran’s main sources of air pollution include industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and dust. This pollution has been linked to a range of health problems, including respiratory illness, heart disease, and cancer.

In recent years, dust storms and their impacts on the population have significantly increased, particularly in the country’s south, southwest, and eastern parts. Additionally, switching power stations from using gas to fuels with high levels of sulfur and nitrogen have greatly worsened air quality in major cities over the past few months, particularly during the winter periods.

Another significant environmental issue in Iran is water scarcity. The country is facing a severe water crisis, with overuse of groundwater and a lack of integrated water resource management leading to decreasing water levels in many regions. This has a major impact on population health and food security. These impacts are multidimensional and include quality, and quantity of supplied water, natural disasters as land subsidence, deforestation, and soil erosion, and many other complex difficulties which can cause damage to buildings and infrastructure.

In Iran, we have lost a significant amount of forest cover and water bodies in recent years, with illegal development projects both contributing to the problem. This has also a major impact on biodiversity, with many species of plants and animals facing extinction. In addition, deforestation can also lead to soil erosion and landslides, which can have a negative impact on agriculture and infrastructure.

The oil and gas industry is one of Iran’s biggest contributors to environmental degradation. Despite being a major source of revenue for the country, the industry has not been held accountable for its environmental impact. The government has failed to enforce regulations to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. As a result, air pollution levels have continued to rise in many cities across the country. Another major contributor to environmental degradation is urbanization. Rapid urbanization and lack of proper planning have led to increased construction and traffic, further exacerbating air pollution and putting additional pressure on the country's water resources.

The United Nations defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Three critical parameters must be considered to achieve this: economic, social, and environmental. Economic sustainability involves the creation of wealth and employment opportunities while maintaining economic stability. Social sustainability refers to the improvement of quality of life and reduction of poverty, with a focus on equity and social justice. Environmental sustainability involves the protection and preservation of the environment, with a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving natural resources, and promoting conservation practices.

Environmental law in Iran is a complex and evolving field, with strengths and significant gaps encompassing a range of laws and regulations to protect the country’s natural resources and promote sustainable development. Despite these efforts, there are significant gaps in the current legal framework, which pose challenges to achieving effective environmental protection and promoting environmental justice in Iran. One of the key gaps in Iran's environmental law is the lack of comprehensive and integrated legal provisions. The country's environmental laws are fragmented, with different agencies responsible for different aspects of environmental protection (Alizadeh, 2019). This can result in inconsistent policies and regulations and make it difficult for stakeholders to understand their obligations and responsibilities under the law. Another gap is the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms. While the country has a number of environmental laws and regulations in place, there is limited enforcement capacity, and enforcement efforts are often inconsistent and ineffective (Alizadeh, 2019). This can result in non-compliance with environmental regulations and contribute to environmental degradation and pollution.

One of the challenges facing Iran in promoting environmental justice is the unequal distribution of environmental impacts. Marginalized communities and low-income populations are often disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and pollution and may not have access to legal remedies to address these impacts. Addressing these inequities and promoting environmental justice will require a sustained and comprehensive effort by the Iranian government and other stakeholders.

Environmental monitoring and preservation are critical to addressing the risks posed by environmental degradation. In the coming decades, there will be a growing need for effective environmental monitoring and preservation strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and other environmental challenges. Water management and governance are critical issues in Iran at the moment, given the country's limited water resources and increasing water demands. The risks of water scarcity and depletion, along with their associated environmental impacts, are significant and have substantial implications for the future development of Iran. Water scarcity is a major risk in Iran due to the country's limited water resources and increasing demands for water from agriculture, industry, and urbanization. To address these risks, it is important for Iran to improve its water management and governance practices. This can include implementing effective water policies and regulations, promoting sustainable water use, and investing in water conservation and efficiency technologies (Shafiei et al., 2018). In addition, it is important for Iran to collaborate with neighboring countries to manage shared water resources, such as transboundary rivers and aquifers, in a sustainable manner (Jafari et al., 2018).

By adopting European best practices, Iran can take meaningful steps towards a more sustainable future and ensure a better quality of life for its citizens and future generations. Iran can learn key lessons from Europe, including investing in renewable energy, effective waste management, promoting sustainable transportation, conserving wildlife and preserving natural habitats, and integrated resource management.

The government must take immediate action to enforce regulations, implement sustainable practices, and protect the environment for future generations. Environmental monitoring and preservation are critical to addressing the risks posed by environmental degradation. The coming decades will require effective strategies to mitigate climate change impacts, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and toxic chemical use. Sustainable development is a critical aspect of Iran's development plan. By focusing on the three key economic, social, and environmental sustainability parameters, Iran can promote environmentally friendly growth, ensure its citizens’ well-being, and preserve its natural resources for future generations. With the right policies and initiatives, Iran has the potential to become a leader in sustainable development, providing a model for other countries to follow.

Abangan, along with Environmental scientists, activists, journalists, and environmental law firms, is planning to take essential steps to assess the current situation, identify strengths and weaknesses, discuss findings, and develop plans to improve environmental protection and monitoring policies, and help lawmakers to adapt and modify rules. This special edition of Abangan is dedicated to this subject and features a series aimed at achieving these goals.


Dr Ehsan Daneshvar is an accomplished scientist and leader in the field of environmental, hydrogeology and energy sectors with a strong commitment to education and industry partnership, he has made significant contributions to the field and continues to inspire the next generation of researchers and engineers. Ehsan is a senior environmental, energy and hydrogeology scientist with extensive experience in industrial leadership in the E&P Energy sectors and water resource management. He earned his PhD in Marine and River environmental analysis, with a focus on clay minerals and reservoir quality, water quality, and environmental impacts on fresh sediments. After completing his PhD, Dr. Daneshvar held several academic and research positions in Iran, the UK, and Canada. He has served years as a faculty member at the University of Marine Science and Technology and has held senior leadership positions in O&G and environmental corporations for more than 15 years. He is also a passionate educator and mentor who has supervised several graduate students and been involved in two postdoctoral programs. He is committed to training the next generation of engineers and researchers in the field of water resource management, groundwater modelling, and renewable energy. Ehsan works closely with academic partners to ensure that the environmental planning and developments are relevant and impactful.


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