We have now been surviving sub zero temperatures for more than a week in Tehran and in many parts of Iran . I read an interesting news report about the residents of Kavir Lut or Lut Desert (which is known to be one of the warmest locations on the surface of earth during summer, with also one of the lowest altitudes) who had experienced their first snowfall after at least three decades. It appears that we are experiencing a severe weather condition which might be related to climate change. We had heavy snowfall last week and more cold weather and snow is apparently on the way.
Gas shortages have left some parts of the country with little or intermittent heating. Schools and universities, to which over 25 million citizens attend, were closed for some days and even government offices were closed for two days. Some people blame this situation on the unsustainable energy consumption patterns and lifestyle that the government and many people in Iran pursue. The fact that in many homes and offices, due to subsidized energy pricing, customers usually do not regulate their consumption levels is well known. Actually, sometimes, we resort to opening the window to let some of the excessive heating to dissipate. Striking that paradoxical point in Iran, usually leads us to a lively and on-going debate on the benefits and detrimental consequences of enjoying an oil revenue- based economy with major energy subsidies. The Persian paradox is that we are no. 2 in world natural gas reserves and we are now freezing due to gas shortages !
In addition , this government insisted on reversing the usual time-savings (1 hour time change) policy which had been implemented every year from times before the Revolution. This action was seriously opposed by both economists and environmentalists until, only a few days ago, when the Parliament finally compelled the Government to re-install the time-savings policy. Some analysts believe that the two year gap might have influenced the current gas and electricity shortages.
Today, along with my colleagues in the Environmental Committee of the Tehran City Council, we travelled through various inner-city routes via public transportation; including :a 8 passenger van (used as a taxi), the Metro or subway train , and also the BRT or newly and halfway established bus rapid transit system. Officials accompanied us on the way and many people recognized me and stopped to talk or express their views .
According to Government regulations and in accordance with legislation to combat urban air pollution, the bus system in Tehran should gradually out phase diesel buses and replace them with CNG powered buses. This was a policy adopted by the previous government during my tenure in the Department of the Environment. Some aspects of this policy were reversed unfortunately in this new administration , partly due to gas shortages particularly during the colder months. Next week,we will observe our national clean air day, aimed at raising awareness on air pollution.
The new BRT buses purchased recently were not CNG powered and I objected to this trend, recognizing the limitations the government faces in providing natural gas for the current CNG fleet of over 2400 buses in Tehran. There is also another serious criticism, aimed at the government these days, for the gas shortages which relates to the two year delays in the exploitation of natural gas reserves Iran shares with Qatar in Southern Pars or Assalouye. During the recent decade, Iran has experienced an exceptional economic and industrial growth and investment rate, thereby resulting in an increased demand for energy among other resources. It seems that this government has not always been able to keep up with the pace in providing basic infrastructure and energy needs.
The expansion of public transportation has been a major policy for both the City Council and the Government and among all options the Metro is the most efficient, safe, environmentally-friendly transportation system which must be expanded and supported with sufficient budget and strong policy. We adopted a bill this week in the City Council asking the government to provide its share in the Metro budget in an efficient and timely manner. I think our people deserve a high quality of life , as well as access to reliable and clean energy resources. We need to work to that direction to ensure a sustainable future for Iran.