By Simona Sikimic

BEIRUT: Environmental degradation and climate change are harming economic growth and social development in Lebanon, audiences heard Thursday.

The warning was made by several regional climate experts gathered in Beirut for the first MEDGREEN conference, which has brought together over 160 delegates from 20 countries to evaluate the “Impact of Integrated Clean Energy on the Future of the Mediterranean Environment.”

“This conference is very important, especially for Lebanon, where the energy crisis is getting worse every day, and where energy sources, renewable and nonrenewable, are underexploited,” said Mouin Hamzeh, the general secretary of the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research.

“The last few years saw an interest in renewable energies being revived, mainly due to high fuel and gas costs, and the concern of the international community about global warming.”

The Mediterranean is thought to have vast “green energy” potential but in spite of its vulnerability to the knock-on effects of climate change, the eastern Mediterranean has been particularly slow to develop its capabilities.

“Patience should be a characteristic … because we have to harmonize our resources [and respect] the sun, wind, hydraulic and biomass as sources of renewable energy,” said Hamzeh.

Lebanon presently generates less than 4 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, although it has pledged a voluntary target of producing 12 percent by 2020.

However, it is hoped that new research and better regional cooperation will help bridge the gap.

A study evaluating the efficiency of solar heaters, presented by two former Notre Dame University students, Johnny Assaf and William Lteif, backed by professor of engineering Michel Hayek, found that certain varieties were 20 percent more efficient in the Lebanese climate.

“The study is unique for Lebanon and shows that ‘evacuated heat pipes’ are 20 percent more efficient in contrast to ‘water in glass pipes,’” said Assaf.

“We calculated that by switching to solar heaters the average person could save 40 to 60 percent off their water heating bills [which account for some 60 percent of all electricity bills].”

“It’s vital to evaluate these differences … at a time when the government is considering issuing [grants] for people to install solar heaters.”

Lebanon’s energy import bill runs at $5 billion and is expected to increase over the coming years, alongside a predicted rise in global energy prices.

“Lebanon is one of the countries that suffer from the most expensive fuel and oil prices,” said Zuheir Shukr, the president of the Lebanese University, which is hosting the conference.

“We can no longer remain indifferent amid this crisis,” he added while dismissing the long-term worth of exploiting newly discovered gas reserves in the south of Lebanon.

Esteemed cosmetologist and climate expert Hubert Reeves inaugurated the conference.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 15, 2011, on page 3.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::