January 11, 2013
By Stephen Dockery

An ambitious plan to drape cities in green gardens and trees entered its second stage Thursday as Environment Ministry representatives and American officials gathered to mark the project’s progress.

The project, funded by the United States Embassy, aims to make major legal and policy changes to regrow green spaces in the city lost years ago in surges of urban expansion.

Former local participants in a U.S.-sponsored assistance drive, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, lobbied politicians, studied the law and worked with 14 civil society organizations to better organize environmental activism to change the country’s environmental policy.

In the first stage of the project civil society organizations received training in advocacy, budget management, fundraising and social media for environmental topics.

Speaking at a news conference at the Environment Ministry, U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly said “the project’s success has underscored the value of sharing knowledge of using citizen activism to promote policies that affect the daily lives of people and of encouraging cooperation of civil society and government.

Connelly said she was encouraged by the amount of headway made by participants in lobbying government officials to make changes in environmental law.

It’s difficult to find the right balance between sustainably and using natural resources to meet the needs of a growing society, Connelly said.

“Sometimes that balance can be skewed too much in one direction but that doesn’t mean the balance can’t be corrected once it’s lost,” she said. “Lebanon’s civil society is a rich source of knowledge and resources to assist the Lebanese government in finding the right balance for Lebanon.”

Environment Minister Nazim Khoury spoke at the conference as well, endorsing the project and its aim to increase his ministry’s responsibility in enforcing new environmental laws.

He particularly focused on how increasing urbanization will make these issues increasingly important.

“Recent studies indicate that around 80 percent of the world’s population is living in cities that cover only 2 percent of the earth’s surface,” Khoury said.

“Thus, work has begun [to focus on] improving quality of life in densely populated cities,” he said.

Participants conducted a study of the current international environmental treaties Lebanon is a signatory to, as well as an investigation into the current environmental laws in the country. They then plotted areas where Lebanon could benefit most from a green project or new environment-related legislation.

The civil society teams that received advocacy training are now working with politicians and local officials to implement projects such as establishing public gardens, expanding the role of the Environment Ministry and realigning city planning with environmental zoning in mind.

The teams compared their projects to similar initiatives in Tokyo, Cairo and Dubai. One of the featured projects is a plan to majorly revitalize neglected park spaces in Beirut. The city’s largest green space, Horsh Beirut, remains closed to the public despite efforts in recent years to reopen the facility.

Environmentalists have made major gains in recent years with new legislation and awareness about environmental problems, but enforcement of environmental laws remains lax and Beirut has pollution levels double international norms.

The U.S. is involved with reforestation and other environmental preservation efforts in the country as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2013, on page 4.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2013/Jan-11/201766-plan-to-revive-green-spaces-in-cities-pushes-for-legal-change.ashx#ixzz2HcczhVLo
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