TM’s Latish Measures

TM’s Latish MeasuresTM’s Latish Measures

As one of the most polluted, heavily industrialized and carbon-inefficient cities in Iran, Tehran’s environmental woes call for immediate and effective action.

To that end, the Tehran Municipality says it has at last laid out measures to help address the seemingly unending environmental problems and turn the most populated city in the country into a beacon of green urban planning.

Few environmentalists, city watchers and informed minds were impressed by the announcement seen as too little too late, especially in light of the TM’s shocking policy of expanding the city limits beyond recognition and issuing construction permits seen as irresponsible and unacceptable by any decent urban standard.

“Addressing environmental problems is a principle of urban management,” said Jafar Tashakori Hashemi, traffic and transportation deputy at the municipality, according to Mehr News Agency.

He singled out climate change and environmental problems as the most pressing issues threatening cities worldwide and pointed to the recurring dust storms as a potential fallout of the failure to address serious environmental concerns piling up for decades.

Dust storms have increased in both frequency and severity in recent years. Whereas previously only western and southwestern provinces were hit by the harmful phenomenon, dust storms have affected 22 provinces — including Tehran — with no signs of letting up.

“The municipality’s approach calls for identifying and managing the sources of environmental problems,” Hashemi said, adding that the TM has several plans and projects to that end.

“Our projects are in line with international standards,” he said, without elaboration.

  Low-Carbon Development

Pointing to the national environmental policies outlined last week by the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei — in which strong emphasis is put on creating and developing a green economy — Hashemi said reducing Tehran’s reliance on carbon is key to a green economy.

“We’ve recently begun implementing measures aimed at curbing carbon use and promoting clean energy, such as the introduction of hybrid taxis and [electric] buses,” he said, adding that the municipality has started promoting electric motorbikes to replace conventional, highly-polluting motorcycles.

Energy policy reform and vehicles that run on clean energy are essential for the capital’s sustainable future, he said, calling on the government “to support schemes aimed at decreasing emissions and reducing reliance on fossil fuel.”

The Rouhani government has pledged to reduce Iran’s greenhouse gas emissions by a maximum of 12% by 2030 relative to the business-as-usual scenario, but environmentalists say it should have raised the bar higher.

With annual carbon emissions exceeding 712 million tons, Iran is the world’s eleventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

“It is important for all relevant bodies to work together to make Tehran’s low-carbon future a reality,” the official said.

  Raising Standards

In addition to resolving environmental predicaments, the municipality is trying to raise environmental standards via its urban transportation projects, such as expanding the sprawling subway network, establishing more Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes, and designating Low Emission Zones, the municipal official said.

“Enjoying a clean environment is a basic right, and that’s precisely what we strive to do.”

Some groups in many countries have often described embracing a low-carbon future as “a roadmap to economic ruin,” but a study published in September called those claims “bunk” and said investing in more efficient transportation, buildings and waste management could save cities worldwide at least $17 trillion.

The study, titled “Accelerating Low-Carbon Development in the World’s Cities” and released by the international commission the New Climate Economy, promotes the use of bikes and buses, but warns against the use of underground trains, albeit from a financial perspective.

BRT is a hybrid between traditional bus service and a subway. The buses usually get exclusive lanes, so they do not get tied up in traffic jams. They make infrequent stops to cover long distances quickly.

The report cites a study that found a BRT system costs about $10 million per mile to establish, one-tenth the price of a metro rail system.

“The key is for city planners to consider things like cycling infrastructure and bus rapid transit as not a burden, but an opportunity,” says Nick Godfrey, an author of the report and the organization’s head of policy and urban development.

While the TM’s belated emphasis on sustainable growth and green economy is worthy of attention, one cannot help but wonder if these calls are genuine or publicity stunts.

The Department of Environment and the Tehran City Council have been at loggerheads with the TM for some time, with the former two accusing the municipality of failing to meet its environmental obligations, such as protecting green spaces and tackling the swarm of whiteflies which engulfed the metropolis while temperatures were mildly hot.