Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recent Developments in Air Pollution Policy

Air pollution is still a major problem for our large cities. Records indicate that air pollution was diagnosed in as far as 1974 as a major problem for Tehran. As the population and number of vehicles increased drastically over the years, from a few thousand to over 4 million in 2011,and due to the lack of serious determination in recent years the issue seems to have become unsurmountable.  In 1998, with the assistance of a team of experts and building upon three major studies a Comprehensive Plan to Combat Air Pollution was drawn up. The plan was adopted in 7 chapters a year later by the Government and implementation began. A strong inter-sectoral management committee was established, all car production lines were brought in line with environmental standards, lead was out-phased from gasoline, natural gas was promoted as a clean fuel and public transportation was enhanced during those years, until 2005 when the government changed.
The new government had other priorities, thus many of the programs concerning air pollution were cancelled or faced serious obstacles.This led to serious setbacks in programs and targets set for reduction of pollutants. This year we have faced more than 80 days of unhealthy air pollution levels. Aromatics, particulate matter, NO2 and ozone are major pollutants detected in Tehran . When it became clear for the Tehran City Council that the Government has a 5 year delay  in providing a revision of the Comprehensive Plan to Combat Air Pollution, they adopted the Environmental Committee proposal on this matter last month.
More interesting on this matter is the fact that the Tehran Municipality won an international award of Sustainable Transport, but the Government which sees the Mayor of Tehran,Mohammad Ghalibaf as a rival, opposed his presence in the US for accepting the award . Despite the Administrations opposition Alireza Dabir, a member of the Council went to receive the award instead.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Letter to Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, had unusual high profile guests on January 4, 1989. Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran had decided to send an official letter, carried by a high-level delegation, for the Soviet leader. The Imam had sent very few such letters during his 11 year term, thus this event was considered to be of utmost importance.
His envoys consisted of Ayatollah Javadi Amolli a prominent religious scholar, Dr. Javad Larijani a top diplomat and Marzieh Dabagh a revolutionary woman activist, imprisoned and tortured for opposing the monarchy. The sending of the letter was unconventional , its contents were confidential and not disclosed even for the emissaries. The members of the delegation received much publicity during and after the event. Particularly important was the inclusion of a woman in this high level delegation, indicating the importance Imam attached to their role in diplomacy and dialogue. Although this diplomatic role for women has yet to be appreciated in the Iranian administration today.
The envoys were warmly welcomed in the Kremlin where they met Mr. Gorbachev and the letter was read out loud and translated simultaneously. The timing of the letter was also significant; this was soon after Iran had accepted the UN resolution 598 for ceasefire ,after the aggression of Saddam against Iran. No one could anticipate what Imam had to say to the Soviet leader. The message praised Mr. Gorbachev's boldness in changing the Soviet system.
''It is clear to everyone that Communism should henceforth be sought in world museums of political history,'' ''Materialism cannot save humanity from the crisis of disbelief in spirituality, which is the basic affliction of human societies in the West and the East.'' Finally Imam had asked Mr. Gorbachev to seriously study and research Islam.
Gorbachev had carefully listened , and then replied after a brief contemplation . Initially he had thanked , Imam for the letter and had pledged to reply appropriately , he had noted that legislation for the freedom of religions was underway and he believed different faiths could live in harmony together. He then made the point that this religious invitation could be considered as a form of interference in the affairs of another country , since each country is free to chose its religion and faith.
In reply ,the head of the delegation thanked Mr. Gorbachev for patiently listening and pledging to provide a response. Mr Javadi noted that on the interference point, he must make a clarification, he noted: “You are free Sir to rule the Soviet Union as you prefer, this message does not concern what is above nor below the land or even the skies of the Soviet Union, this message concerns only you and your soul.”
Mr. Gorbachev is a respected former leader a now  active in sustainable development and peace issues. He has founded and leads an international NGO, Green Cross with active branches in many countries.
The Brisbane Earth Dialogues was an international conference held in 2006 in Australia under his auspices. I was invited to address the Conference as the first woman Vice President of Iran and as a Champion of the Earth and I met Mr. Gorbachev on the sidelines.
We discussed about Imam's letter. I asked him whether he recalled the meeting and the letter . He said he recalled them very well. He even recalled that the lady in the delegation wore gloves. I pointed that Imam had not sent any letter to any world leader other than him, indicating that he regarded him highly and worthy of a intellectual dialogue. Mr. Gorbachev acknowledged that he had been very engaged and busy during those times and that he had not given due attention to the matter at that juncture. I pointed that through this letter Imam had attempted to initiate a dialogue between two cultures and religions. Although Imam had passed away, the letter was still a matter of lively debate in Iran and in other Muslim media. Every year on the anniversary interviews, seminars and debates on the mission and the letter were convened. Mr. Gorbachev was surprised to hear that the letter is still a relevant entity for Iran and the Islamic world. He indicated his readiness to work on an initiative to revive this dialogue and to revisit the message that Imam sent him.
Now in 2011 we face very difficult challenges in Iran and in many parts of the world.
The concept and policy of Dialogue among Civilizations reinstated by former President Khatami is seriously challenged now by radical power structures in Iran, violent groups who deny dialogue at the national and international dimensions have undermined many democratic processes of the Islamic Republic. Revisiting the letter of Imam Khomeini on the anniversary might remind us of the importance that he gave to dialogue and understanding among faiths, cultures and even politicians.

You can see the New York Times Article of January 1986 below: