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Massoumeh Ebtekar of Iran is a 2006 Champion of the Earth


Source: United Nations Environment Programme


Speech by Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran, Special Prize Winner, on 21st April 2006 to mark Champions of the Earth Awards Ceremony in Singapore


Massoumeh Ebtekar


His Excellency, President of the Republic of Singapore, Acting Executive Director of UNEP, Shafqat Kakakhel, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.


I am both honored and humbled to accept the Champions of the Earth Award, UNEP’s generous recognition of our efforts for the protection of the environment inspires motivation and gives new impetus for all those who endeavour to protect life on earth. I would like to thank UNEP for this acknowledgement and for all it has done under the visionary and bold leadership of Klaus Toepfer. UNEP has proven an unerring compass in promoting global environmental awareness and international collaboration for improvement of the same. I would also like to thank the Government of Singapore for their kind hospitality.


Efforts to protect the earth, the generous cradle of life must of necessity be of a collective and collaborative nature, as were our efforts in Iran. In truth, I receive this award on behalf of, before all, the great Iranian nation, and then also all my former colleagues during my eight year tenure in the Iranian Department of Environment, the dedicated rangers, personnel, directors and all the diligent participants that made our achievements possible.


The Islamic Republic of Iran, during the Reform Government of President Seyyed Muhammad Khatami, experienced a magnificent cutting edge era of environmental awareness. Significant strides were taken to improve the quality of air, water and soil and to protect the natural treasures of our country. Government, civil society and the economic sector coalesced in an unprecedented partnership of scale to improve environmental standards in the midst of economic growth and booming domestic investment. We demonstrated the practicality for a rapidly developing country rich with petroleum and other heavy industries to advance environmental performance, once the politicians see things in correct perspective and take the indispensable sustainable development approach seriously.


During those years Iran’s commitment to the international environmental agenda also paid tangible dividends. In addition to the promotion of Mr. Khatami’s concept of Dialogue Among Civilizations we sought greater input from the developing nations’ perspectives and a deeper sense of a spiritual and ethical approach in the process of global environmental management. We still hold to the principled potentials of environmental peacemaking, even though today there is a systematic effort to portray Iran as a source of aggression and violence.


We realized that seeing the world in a different light, washing our eyes in order to see life in a brighter context, would enable us policy makers and decision makers to change our ways. As we search through and discover small bits of the mysteries of life, we learn to flow in the channel of time and cherish existence in all life forms.


Our changed ways and views can and do expose the darker versions of our decisions and enable us to take far-reaching actions that could prevent the unsustainable trends and correct myriad misgivings before existing circumstance become irreversible.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Humans have been expelled from paradise and champions are intent upon returning to paradise. Champions are those that consciously decide to change prevailing circumstances in full knowledge of the challenges, obstacles and the inevitable hurdles ahead. The core of their being cannot tolerate the status quo and embarks on an inner spiritual journey to overcome all hardships. Over time they emerge intent upon creating a new world paradigm. It is a world of beauty, hope, love and peace.


Violence and militarism fester in the hearts and minds that would deny peace. The destruction of nature and degradation of the environment reflect the same qualities of violence and greed against our natural environment.


Absorbed as we are in investigating viable and effective solutions to global challenges, we may well discover the solutions already existing in our inner self. While persevering in the search of the outer world our most intelligent resolve might be in taking the introspective journey for peace within. We might have to realize that inner journey before all else, to change our spirit, our behavior and the patterns that are hurting the world to the verge of total confrontation and destruction.


Equations and relationships in today’s world are based on material calculations–drenched in greed and power. These selfish excesses have driven the world to the untenable position it is in today. To correct global affairs we need first to correct the individual self. In the words of the enlightened leader and scholar of Islam, Ali Ibn Abi Talib when witnessing a wrestling match, he stated. “The real bold champion is the one who controls and corrects the ego, masters the inner self.”


It seems that in considering the reasons behind the state of the world today, what we still truly require are “Real Champions” to save the earth.


Thank you once again.



Biography: Dr. Massoumeh Ebtekar


Dr. Massoumeh Ebtekar served as Vice President of the Islamic Republic and Head of the Department of Environment from 1997-2005 during the reformist government of Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.  Dr. Ebtekar believes that the remarkable achievements of this period were made possible due to the tireless efforts of a coherent and competent team of scholars , directors, experts and personnel particularly environment rangers within the DOE . Also she believes that the widespread transformations in all related sectors and the integration of environmental concerns in the development process would not have been possible without the partnership of  directors and experts and scholars  NGOS , media and  people from all walks of life ,  particularly at the highest levels of decision making and before all the President himself who envisioned the unrelenting support  for the environment as an integral aspect of his agenda. International collaboration and support was also forthcoming in this regard. This was in effect a collective partnership and effort that enjoyed the blessings of the Creator in bringing the hearts and minds of a diverse group of people together.


The Iranian Department of Environment (DOE) underwent major re-engineering and restructuring during her tenure leading to a strengthening of its status among national and international institutions. The organizational chart of the DOE was enhanced on the basis of studies performed on the issue more than 1500 new posts were appointed, an educational upgrading of the personnel leading to 70% with academic education in 2005 as compared to only 25% in 1997, a decentralization policy led to the establishment of 57 new DOE offices in smaller cities from 1997-2005. The DOE was facing a new era of capacity building and empowerment , 10 new research centers were established in provinces , the Biodiversity Museum was established and Pardisan Park underwent major transformations.  A well equipped and modernized network of 50 research and measurements laboratories for water, soil  and air pollution was established and upgraded. The  3 thousand man Environment Ranger’s  Force and their scheme and equipment has also faced major transformation in these years enabling them to better protect the natural heritage of the country.


Natural Heritage
During this era with the untiring efforts of the DOE personnel the area of protected land in Iran rose from 4.75 % of the country’s area to 7.75%  amounting to 11 million hectares. A major GIS survey and project leading to the publication of an atlas of the country’s protected areas was initiated and major improvements in management  including the involvement of local societies. A well managed wildlife and game policy enabled the biodiversity in many protected areas to flourish.  Research centers for , the houbara bustard, the wild ass, the yellow deer , and marine turtles were established and supported. A major strategy to protect the pristine natural forests of the country led to the protection of 10% of all forests in 1998, the establishment of 3 new forest national parks, a serious curbing of logging in the northern sections of  country, and the adoption of standards for sustainable management of forests in the Supreme Council of the Environment.


Civil Society
A major strategy pursued by the DOE during these years was support and advocacy for the civil society . During a environmental campaign initiated by the Head of the DOE people were encouraged to engage in nongovernmental activities in favor of the environment. The government and DOE provided legal , training and basic support for this type of social activity . The result was a fascinating upsurge of environmental  NGOs from 20 in 1997 to more than 650 in 2005. These NGOs were active at local ,provincial and national levels.  With the support of the DOE they established provincial networks in 2001, regional networks in 2002 and in 2003  the nation-wide network of environmental NGOs was formally established , all with democratic elections and processes. The DOE also embarked on a strategy to train and educate members of 30 thousand local councils in the country on sustainable development.


During these years with the collective efforts of the DOE and NGOs a major upsurge in environmental education, news and awareness ensued. Environmental education was included and upgraded  in the formal school curriculum, at least 20 new degree programs on the environment were established in universities and 20 new research centers affiliated to universities were established with the support of  the DOE. Hundreds of publications intended for all target groups including specifically women, rural societies, children and students were published. A dynamic website including thousands of pages of information, news, research data and an interactive museum of biodiversity was launched.

A nation wide media campaign for environmental awareness led to significant attention of the public during these years.  The national radio and television networks devoted 5% of their time to environment related programs supported by the DOE.

The DOE  for the first time conducted 8 rounds of annual Environment Awards encouraging and creating incentives  for all strata.  In an international effort to promote environmental awareness the DOE conducted 4 rounds of the International Green Film Festival introducing hundreds of national and international films to the public at a nationwide scale. (1011 cities were involved in the fourth festival ).Surveys done indicated that the general public was sensitized on environmental issues.


The DOE established a research council in 1997 led by the Head and provincial councils nationwide, more than 300 scientists and scholars from over 80 academic centers in Iran were engaged in a collective effort to enhance the quality and quantity of environmental research . The DOE followed the principle of ” decisions only based on sound scientific research “ during these years. For the first time an annual Environment  Research Letter was published.


Environmental Policy
The DOE embarked on a serious campaign to influence development policy at all levels in government and private sector  enjoying the overall support of President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami. The DOE led the creation of the first National Plan for the Environment in 1997 and the third 5 year development plan1999-2005 reflected strong environmental directions due to the major changes in government policy and attitude. During this period all development sectors made major efforts to implement environmental standards. The fourth 5 year development plan became a reflection of this major shift in policy; more than 20% of this economic, political, and social plan was devoted to environmental legislature.

DOE director generals in all provinces and cities were appointed to national planning and development committees thereby  gaining the opportunity to directly influence regional and local policy in the direction of sustainable development.


Regulation and Incentives : Stick and Carrot Approach
Establishment of an office of environment in every ministry became obligatory in 1999 and inter-sectoral cooperation became a major policy of the DOE. A nation wide policy of incentives and regulation was implemented as a win-win policy for the economic and industrial sectors.  Industries were regulated in a systematic manner , fines and legal prerogatives were taken very seriously by local implementation authorities of the DOE. On the other hand, a series of incentives intended to encourage and promote environmentally friendly policies were implemented. The DOE convened an annual competition for industrial units entitled “ The Green Industry Award” this prestigious award became an important incentive for the industry and private sector and was used in their advertisement as a prestigious credit. In order to promote environmental technologies, environmental achievements in private and government sectors an annual International Environmental Exhibition was held for 6 years attracting hundreds of national and international firms and tens of thousands of visitors each year. As  a result of these comprehensive policies every year hundreds of industries initiated programs to implement environment management and standards in their firms, 20 large industrial cities harboring over 3000 industrial units established wastewater purification and reuse sytems, and implemented environment management systems .

The DOE  began the enforcement of automotive emissions regulation in 1999 , in a matter of three years 15 production lines proved incompatible with national standards and were closed down 53 car production lines successfully improved their systems to comply to more stringent standards (Euro II) leading to the reduction of   pollutants in emissions by 80%. Also important was  the establishment a modern  national research and standard test center for automotive emissions in 2004.


Greening of Petroleum Sector
The petroleum sector is potentially one of the most polluting economic sectors. Following the policy shift, the strong regulation and the support of the DOE, the Ministry of Petroleum took major initiatives to correct past practices and measures and to implement environmental policy . As a result , the nationwide out-phasing of leaded gasoline was possible in 2002, 10 large refinery complexes in the country implemented environment management schemes ( spending each up to 30 M USD) for air water and soil contamination control , 12 large petrochemical complexes in the country implemented ISO 14000 standards and gained DOE approval for their emission standards again spending millions of dollars to implement environmental technologies, pipeline control and the execution of environmental impact assessment results. The promotion of natural gas in industries , power plants and vehicles was also initiated and supported by the DOE in spite of hurdles and difficulties created. The Minister of Petroleum was awarded the National Prize for the Environment in 2003 for his spectacular performance in promoting environmental standards and regulations in all sectors of the ministry.


Abatement of Air Pollution
Since 1999, studies on air pollution in Tehran were compiled by the DOE and a comprehensive plan to combat air pollution was drawn up. After adoption of the plan by the cabinet and allocation of resources the plan was implemented in 7 major projects.  Success percentages of the projects indicate the great achievements in this area :

Installation of mechanized inspection centers 100% , technical and policy support for natural gas bus production line 100% ( more than 2000 natural gas buses now roam the streets of Tehran). Traffic improvement schemes 100%, inspection and control of car 100 %, motorcycle and bus emissions 75%. Overall the plan in its 5th year of implementation has resulted in the improvement of air quality in Tehran. Similar air pollution abatement plans have also been implemented in 7 other major cities of the country , promising better air quality for more than 20 million citizens . In all projects the major impetus has been set by the DOE.


Waste Management
The DOE spearheaded a nationwide project for proper planning and management of urban waste in 1998. The plans included a nationwide Clean Earth Day  mobilizing NGOs , municipalities and people from all walks on the issue of recycling and proper waste management. Also,the DOE prepared the first comprehensive bill on waste management in 2002 it was finally adopted in the Cabinet in 2003 and in early 2005 the Parliament adopted the National Law  on Waste Management . This breakthrough provided new grounds for  regulation and management for all types of waste . During these years more than 50 large cities began or enhanced the implementation of  waste management and recycling projects  amounting to hundreds of thousands of tons of waste being recycled.


Data and Information Management
The DOE lacked any reliable statistics or database prior to this period. During this period  two major projects on the development of a database and statistics for the environment were launched resulting in the creation of the environmental statistics database. Also in 2003 the first project for the preparation of a National State of the Environment report was launched the first SOE was published in 2004 and the second SOE more compatible with international reporting on the environment in 2005. One four year performance report 2001 and one eight year report 2005 were published. The DOE also published the first and second environmental performance scorecard for all development ministries. By 2005 most DOE offices were performing with dynamic software providing management information systems MIS in related areas of specialization such as wildlife management, laboratory management, pollution control, regulation and inspection and other related areas.



... Payvand News - 4/27/06 ... --

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