On 03 April 2014, the United Nations University hosted “Environmental Challenges and Opportunities”, a lecture by Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of the Department of Environment.
The discussion on the need to protect the environment has intensified in recent years thanks to various platforms and interest groups calling for more protection and collective responsibility to ensure sustainable development as a whole. Dr. Ebtekar’s lecture was yet another reminder and a call to the international community to change mindsets with regard to our approach to, and relationship with the environment. Specifically, the lecture pinpointed some of the challenges nations face as they strive for economic growth, as well as identified the opportunities for the much needed change in conceptions of environmental protection.
When reflecting on how far the world has come in providing solutions for a myriad of complexities that hamper human development, Dr. Ebtekar highlighted that the international community has not been successful in areas such as peacemaking and respect for diversity despite the level of technology and civilization the world has experienced thus far. She noted that we still live alongside a wide spectrum of contradictions, which took root in political confusion, ideological interventions, religious conflicts, social transitions, extreme poverty, racism, and degradation of the environment, with very little sacrifice being made to ensure sustainability.
Dr. Ebtekar thus emphasized the need for change by revisiting the basic human values that we ought to hold close in the spirit of altruism: ones that are centered on the concept of cooperation and unity with a need to focus more on tolerance and diversity ― an undertaking the UN can play an important part in. Quoting the Iranian philosopher Shahabeddin Sohrevardi, who was able to embrace diversity in his field by incorporating the power of ideas from Greek philosophers and others to create a fusion of common values, Dr. Ebtekar put forward the idea that the world has many commonalities that need to be explored to combat the current predicaments. This, she stated, is what the world needs today — a readiness to move beyond selfish ambitions and embrace a sphere of altruism based on the power of sacrifice, which would particularly apply to the context of environmental protection.
When addressing the political will of nations in their mandate to ensure environmental preservation, Dr. Ebtekar also made an appeal for the type of leadership that is needed in order to take a strong, uncompromising stand, coupled with the necessary action, as opposed to the current status quo. Dr. Ebtekar thanked the Japanese government for their continued work on environmental issues, stating that there was strong hope in Tehran that Iran and Japan could continue to cooperate to tackle emerging problems. Although clearly defined strategies have been devised with regard to the settlement of joint issues, work still needs to be carried out to further promote a sound green economy and climate change awareness.
Dr. Ebtekar noted that there is scope for academia and the private sector to support governments in tackling these issues by discovering their shared commonalities to better inform governments in developing countries, promote a green economy, and dissolve the misconceptions about climate change among the general public.