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State too little involved in environment and climate, outside of international dynamics

Environmental diplomacy ensures countries’ positioning in the international context and offers any country concerned, especially developing countries, better access to the technologies, practices and financing so needed to solve the various environmental problems it faces.

In Tunisia, this diplomacy is almost non-existent, according to Samir Meddeb, an international consultant in environment and sustainable development. This naturalist by training, who has made a career in national environmental institutions (1990s), points to the “weak involvement of the Tunisian state in the various aspects of the environment” in an interview granted to TAP.

Interview.

First of all, what is meant by environmental diplomacy?

Samir Meddeb: Environmental diplomacy is undoubtedly the standard-bearer abroad and with international institutions of the official position of a given country in terms of environment internationally and regionally with all the declinations of a national nature.

This multi-component position, which affects all environmental fields, particularly those that directly or indirectly concern the country in question, is translated and materialized in practice, notably in three major areas:

Firstly, the country’s vision in the environmental fields that are a priority for it, with concrete proposals for policies and programs.

Secondly, the partnership and cooperation modalities that need to be established at the regional and international level to concretize and implement the country’s vision, policy and priority programs.

Thirdly, the capacities and skills of the country in question in the management of environmental affairs, with an emphasis on its specificities in this area.

What opportunities could environmental diplomacy offer to Tunisia?

A diplomacy articulated in this way must certainly release, with the various bilateral and multilateral partners, a set of opportunities that will be communicated to the technical departments concerned for study, investigation and examination of their feasibility in the national context. A back and forth process will therefore put in place between the diplomatic corps in charge of these aspects and the technical structures concerned.

Environmental diplomacy appears today as an indispensable approach in any environmental and sustainable development policy in general, because it ensures the indispensable positioning of a given country in the international context, and it offers the country concerned, especially when it is developing, better access to the technologies, practices and financing so necessary for the resolution of the various environmental problems it faces.

Does Tunisia have an “environmental diplomacy” today and if not, why not?

A similar, global, coherent and continuous diplomacy seems to be almost non-existent in Tunisia. However, depending on the circumstances, we see occasional interventions at international events or at the time of negotiation of bilateral or multilateral cooperation programs or projects.

Such practices, despite some positive effects, remain isolated and do not ensure the expected sustainability and capitalization.

The weak involvement of the Tunisian State in the various aspects of the environment, the lack of visibility in terms of policy in this field and the absence of support for national and local institutions in charge of environmental problems are currently the main obstacles to the development of any environmental diplomacy.

Tunisia still seems to have little visibility and not enough “aggressiveness” on the international environmental scene. What does the country lose by not being so?

Indeed, apart from the fact that a large part of environmental and climate problems find their answers at national and local levels, it is increasingly common to turn to the regional and international levels to jointly identify, within the framework of partnerships, shared solutions to the various challenges that arise today for a given country, or individually for companies or  territories.

The international dynamic has the advantage of capitalizing on experience, achievements and wealth in various environmental and climate-related fields that need to be identified, understood and mastered, with a view to integrating them, positioning oneself within them and continually seeking to make the most of them.

The environment, in the broadest sense, is becoming internationalized today, it does not obey the traditionally established borders, it is often managed according to collective approaches in which each party is required to make its own contribution.

It is unthinkable today that a given party, at the level of a country, territory or company, should commit to resolving an environmental or climate problem without seeking to take its place, beyond its limits, in a global, international dynamic, enabling it to position itself in the most innovative and promising mechanisms, both technically and financially.

To place itself today on the sidelines and outside the international mechanisms in the fields of environmental and climate transition deprives the party concerned of the knowledge, practices and financing so necessary for the resolution of the various problems to which it is exposed. Overall, Tunisia appears today to be outside the international dynamics in the field of environment and climate.

As an international consultant, what do you recommend to the country to take into account the environment as a development factor?

The environmental challenges as well as the climatic imperatives, which Tunisia is facing, increasingly condition the development of the country in all its socio-economic and territorial components.

The failure to take into account the various challenges to which we are increasingly exposed, particularly in terms of preserving our natural capital and adapting to new climatic conditions, would seriously and durably hamper our development potential.

Our human activities, particularly those that are practiced in the context of a strong interaction with natural capital, such as agriculture, tourism, housing, industry and fishing, must henceforth be carried out, from planning to implementation, in the greatest harmony with the imperatives of the environment and ecological limits.

The integration of the environment and climate into development processes must be given a prominent place in government policy. Strategically and institutionally, sustainable development must be the driving force behind any new planning approach. Our continental and marine natural resources (water, soil, forests, fishery resources), as well as our various ecosystems, from the interior of the country to the sea and the coastline, which are currently almost all overexploited, must henceforth be managed in the most reasonable manner, with a view to guaranteeing their sustainability and consequently the sustainability of the economic activities that exploit them.

The green economy on the continent and the so-called blue economy on the coast and at sea must be the foundations of our development. They must be approached not only as an obligation, but above all as an opportunity.

A clear strategy, agreed upon and approved by all development actors in the field of environmental transition in its three natural, climatic and territorial components must be developed very quickly in Tunisia. This strategy will be applied in a visible and practical manner to all socio-economic development sectors, as well as to the country’s various regions on the basis of their specific characteristics.

An institutional review will be necessary to ensure this much desired environmental integration. This means a review of the bodies in charge of the environment, which are currently suffering from great inefficiency, and also of the development and land-use planning institutions. The latter must be brought together in the future within the framework of common dynamics that would take them out of sectoral approaches and gradually orient them towards more integrated, systemic approaches.

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