- Population (2020): 85,547,012 (ranked 18th globally)
- GDP per capita (2017): USD 20,885 (ranked 65th globally)
- Emissions (2020) : 690.2Mt (ranked 8th globally)
- Earth.Org Sustainability Index Ranking: 187th
Pledges & Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDC: Iran’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in November 2015, targets the following:
- Unconditionally mitigate its GHG emissions by 4% by 2030.
- Iran has also announced that a total emissions reduction target of 12% by 2030 could be achieved should the country receive international assistance, technology transfers and if certain foreign sanctions are lifted.
- To reduce emissions by up to 130 million tons of CO2 avoided by 2030 annually through contributions to economic diversification and adaptation. These ambitions are contingent on the Kingdom’s economy continuing to grow as emissions are being reduced.
- Paris Agreement & NDC: Iran’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in November 2015, targets the following:
- Road to Net-Zero: Per Climate Action Tracker, Iran has so far not submitted a target date for hitting net-zero emissions.
- Clean Energy Goals: Iran has not mentioned any clean energy goal in their NDC, although the Iranian government has shown interest in increasing the country’s solar and wind capacity while also encouraging the installation of new nuclear and geothermal energy plants. Around 10% of Iran’s electricity production can be generated to lower the dependence on fossil fuels.
State of Affairs
The Iranian government hasn’t updated its NDC since November 2015. Iran has committed itself to pursuing “economic growth, social development, poverty eradication and environment sustainability continue to be the main priorities of the national development agenda.” In other words, the Iranian government has been balancing the need of economic development and sustainable economic growth with the use of green energies and phasing out emissions-causing industries. However, Iran’s political situation and relatively high poverty rates complicate the government’s goals.
Per Iran’s NDC, economic sanctions led by the US present an obstacle to enacting stronger environmental policies. Climate change adaptation and mitigation measures require advanced technology and financing. As Iran does not independently have access to these resources, international support is necessary for Iran to stay in line with its commitments. Meanwhile, Iran is still reliant on high-carbon-intensive industry and oil exports to sustain a vulnerable economy.
The Iranian government desperately needs international assistance to execute its adaptation plan. For example, the total investment of water resources infrastructure is around USD$100 billion and the total investment of the environmental plan was around USD$40 billion in 2010. Based on their economic dilemma, international assistance is the only solution to fulfil Iran’s environmental plan. However, it is highly questionable whether the Western world can financially assist Iran given the series of economic sanctions and restrictions placed upon the country, as well as industrialised countries’ inability to meet pre-existing climate finance commitments.
The 2020 Corruption Perception Index of the Iranian government is ranked at 149/180. Many high-ranking officials, such as Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and top judges have been convicted for corruption in 2020. In February 2020, Iran was put on the blacklist of the intergovernmental anti-money laundering Financial Action Task Force (FATF) because they failed to rigorously follow the FATF rules regarding banking transparency. It is highly questionable whether Iran’s environmental commitment can be carried out without the disruption of corruption.
Climate Vulnerability & Readiness
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is, the lower its vulnerability score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience, the higher its readiness score will be. Iran’s scores are:
- Vulnerability Score: 0.389 (ranks 71st out of 192 countries)
- Readiness Score: 0.402 (ranks 98th out of 192 countries)
Climate change has been threatening Iran in recent years primarily in the form of extremely high temperatures. In 2017, there was an unprecedented heat wave as it’s recorded around 54 degrees. Thermometers in the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz recorded around 53°C, which combined with severe air pollution in the city, led to very dangerous public health conditions. Heatwaves of this magnitude can be fatal due to accompanying dehydration, heat fatigue, heat cramps and heat stroke.
Iran is also classified as one of the most water-scarce countries in the world due to poor water management, increased hot-spots of dust and sandstorms caused by heat waves. As over 90% of Iran’s water resources are being directed towards the agricultural sector, antiquated agricultural and irrigation systems have been threatening food production. What’s more, extreme hot temperatures and lack of rain also exacerbate the water scarcity problem in Iran, thus experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. In response, street protests broke out over water shortages in the oil-producing southwestern province of Khuzestan in July 2021. In short, water mismanagement and extreme weather conditions are a double effect to Iran’s water shortage in recent years.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Renewable energy made up 1% of Iran’s total energy share in 2017, per IRENA.
- Between 2013 and 2018, the share of renewable energy in Iran’s renewable energy supply grew by 7.3%.
- In 2018, fossil fuels accounted for 98% of Iran’s energy production. Other non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear, account for 1% of the country’s energy mix.
As Iran’s developing electricity demand is expected to grow by 6% per year, the country feels the need to expand the use of renewable energy to secure the total electricity supply, although a historical reliance on oil and gas, combined with the lack of existing renewable technology transfers, complicate the prospects of a wholesale energy transition. As of 2016, the combination of the renewable energy sector: wind energy (53.88MW), biomass energy (13.56MW), solar energy (0.51 MW) and hydropower (0.44MW).
Iran has a geographical advantage because the southern provinces of the country are located in the world’s “Sun Belt” with high solar irradiation and an average of 300 sunny days annually. Also, Iran has a potential to produce 1.4GW of wind power because it is located in a low pressure region surrounded by high pressure areas and is in the main air corridor of winds in summer and winter.
The Iranian government has set a new target during the 6th Development Plan (2016-2020) to install 7,500MW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. If successful, this project would provide for 10% of Iran’s total energy production from 2020-2025.
Foreign firms have been cooperating with Iran to see these projects come to fruition. A consortium of Iranian, Indian and South Korean companies are building a 1GW solar park in the Khuzestan province. An Italian company and a Danish company have announced an installation of a 50MW solar plant and an establishment of a wind turbine facility respectively. However, financing for green energy projects is a challenge for Iran due to ongoing economic sanctions imposed upon the country. Land acquisition and local capability are also challenges because local governments have a lack of experience to wipe out obstacles prior to any form of construction.
- Iran has a total of 9,864km of rail lines. A further 7,500 km of rail lines is under construction.
- Iran has 24,285km of regular roads, 13,519km of highway and 2,158km of freeway.
The Iranian government has been encouraging the use of electric vehicles to ameliorate the country’s severe air pollution. As of 2017, 5,500 EVs were imported to Iran. As of 2020, Local vehicle manufacturers, such as MAPNA Group and automaker Saipa have pushed through prototypes for their own EV car and motorcycle models. The government is also interested in EV taxis and buses.
In 2017, the Iranian government implemented the Clean Air Act to renew the urban public transport fleet and offer additional economic incentives for more hybrid and electric vehicles and electric motorcycles. To protect domestic manufacturing, the government increased national EV import tariffs from 5% to 45-100%, while making domestically-manufactured EVs exempt from VAT. Tehran, the capital city, has initiated plans for EVs to enter the central parts of the city without any traffic restrictions
- 8.61% of Iran’s territorial space is protected, as is 0.8% of the country’s marine areas.
- Per Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, 75.87% of Iran’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked Iran 74th in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, forests covered 6.601% of Iran’s land in 2020. In 2010, Iran had 1.37Mha of natural forest, extending over 0.85% of its land area.
- Per the Global Forest Watch, 0.22% of tree cover loss in Iran from 2001 to 2020 is due to deforestation. In Iran, the top 2 regions were responsible for 77% of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2012. Mazandaran had the most tree cover loss at 1.34kha compared to an average of 145ha.
There are several laws and regulations to safeguard Iran’s biodiversity. Article 50 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran clearly prohibits all economic activities that may cause “irreparable damage to the environment.” Also, the Fifth Five-Year National Development Plan (2010-2014) includes specific provisions to protect sensitive regions and improve public awareness on the value of vibrant biodiversity.
What’s more, there is a “Note No.11” within the Sixth Five-Year National Development Plan (2016-2021) to specifically target environmental strategies. It requires all the executive bodies and private sectors for major projects to have strategic environmental assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) policies, programs and plans based on standards and criteria for environmental sustainability.
- Per the global NGO Earth’s Endangered Creatures, Iran possesses 156 endangered species, of which 2 are plant species and 154 are animal species.
- Per the research group Animal Protection Index, Iran has not enshrined into law legislation that recognises the sentience of animal species.
As of November 2017, the Department of Environment proposed a Bill to protect animals because there is no formal policy or legislation recognising animal sentience. This draft Bill proposes to prohibit any act of physical violence or abandonment against animals because the draft Bill acknowledges that animals can suffer physically and mentally. However, the draft Bill has not been formally enacted into law.
The bill proposes to regulate activities such as the killing of animals whether for food, the use of animals for clothing or other byproducts, as well as the keeping of animals for entertainment, education and research.
Article 50 obviously states that all citizens should have a legal duty to protect the environment and prohibits all harmful economic activities. In 1967, the Law on Hunting and Fishing required citizens to acquire an official licence from the Fishing and Hunting Organisation prior to hunting or fishing. Besides, the Convention on Biological Diversity targets “by 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced”. To achieve this target, the Iranian Government established a Special Wildlife Committee to execute this plan.
- Per IQAir, in 2020 Iran averaged 27.2µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), ranking 26th out of the 106 most polluted countries and territories where data was collected.
- Iran has five times the PM2.5 concentration of the WHO exposure recommendation. This implies that the Iranian residents are living in a place with severely polluted air. 40,000 premature deaths related to air pollution were recorded in 2021.
- In 2021, Iran had on average 0.745kg of waste per capita daily while the country generates around 2.7 million metric tons of waste annually.
Overall, Iran’s air quality is unsafe because the level of air contamination is beyond 200 under the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is “heavily polluted” in Tehran. AQI measures levels of air contamination with 6 levels. The worst level is called “Hazardous” and the most mild level is called “good”. In this sense, Iran’s air quality is ranked at the second worst level. In 2018, the World Health Organisation identified Tehran as the “most polluted city in the world.” Other major cities, such as Tabriz, Isfahan and Mashhad have also recorded severe air pollution in the past.
Despite the Clean Air Law of 2017, there has been a lack of coordination and closer cooperation among the various bureaucratic bodies of Iran, specifically between the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Energy and Tehran Municipality.
Last but not least, electronic waste accounts for around 2% of the total waste generated in Iran. On average, an individual Iranian produces around 8kg of electronic waste each year, including items such as laptops, tablets, desktop computers and televisions. What’s more, there is no clear legal regulation to monitor and guide waste collectors and relevant enterprise.