Iran's Sanctions Relief Opens Way for Bigger Pollution Cuts

  • Vice president sees `new vistas' for clean technology in Iran
  • Republic pledged to triple climate efforts without sanctions

Lifting nuclear sanctions against Iran will boost the nation’s efforts to curb fossil-fuel emissions, one of its vice presidents said, even as the Islamic Republic plans to unleash an extra 1 million barrels of oil a day onto global markets.

Without the crippling economic restrictions on trade, Iran should be able to boost access to wind and solar power and technology to curb greenhouse gases from power plants, homes and factories, said Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, who is head of the country’s Department of the Environment.

“The removal of sanctions will open new vistas and give new opportunities for investment in green businesses, and green technologies for Iran,” Ebtekar said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Tehran. “The sanctions created many hurdles and many limitations for us in our program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

Iran is the world’s 11th-biggest emitter of the pollution blamed for global warming. It joined 194 other nations in Paris in December in agreeing to a new international deal to fight climate change, requiring all countries for the first time to limit their greenhouse gases. The Islamic Republic said in a submission to the United Nations that it could triple its efforts if sanctions were removed.

Iran’s pledge was to unconditionally cut emissions in 2030 by 4 percent from what would otherwise occur. Absent sanctions, officials said they could achieve an additional 8 percent reduction, bringing the total cut to 12 percent.

Iran projects emissions will double to about 1,600 megatons (1.6 billion tons) of carbon dioxide in 2030 from 2015 levels, the country’s lead climate negotiator, Majid Shafie-Pour, said Wednesday in a phone interview from Tehran.

With sanctions relief, it can reduce emissions in 2030 by about 200 megatons, with annual emissions between now and then averaging 100 megatons below the business-as-usual pathway, he said. Over 15 years, that amounts to 1,500 megatons of emissions avoided -- the equivalent of more than a year’s greenhouse gases from Japan.

“We now have an open forum for technology development and transfer and capacity-building activities to be initiated and to attract more investors to secure the financial resources that we need to go along the path,” Shafie-Pour said. “We have high hopes to be able to reduce our emissions over that time-span.”

With sanctions in place, western companies haven’t been able to trade with Iran, cutting off the republic’s access to wind turbines and solar panels whose prices have plunged in recent years as technologies became more efficient.

The country has already laid the groundwork to expand its renewables industry, setting up feed-in tariffs for wind and solar that are “quite attractive,” according to Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, a renewables analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. He forecasts non-hydro renewable power capacity to increase to 5.6 gigawatts by 2020 from 400 megawatts at the end of 2015.

“You’re starting from a very low base,” Izadi-Najafabadi said in an interview. "The opportunities with the feed-in tariff are quite attractive and it’s a country that has extremely good wind resources. Solar is also picking up.”

Wind is set to grab the lion’s share of that capacity, about 3.9 gigawatts, and manufacturers Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA, Suzlon Energy Ltd., Nordex SE and Vestas Wind Systems A/S are all scoping out the market, he said. He signaled that Chinese companies are likely to be the first movers in the new market, followed by the South Koreans and then Japanese and European firms.

“We have been witnessing delegations from Asian and European countries,” Ebtekar said. “These are mostly business people -- international corporations in different areas like energy, oil and petroleum, but also in wind technology, in water purification and waste management. “We have a lot of different proposals in terms of investment.”

The vice president, one of 11 in Iran’s government, said that improving energy efficiency in power plants, industrial facilities and homes will bring economic benefits as well as being “very important” parts of carbon reduction efforts.

“The gas, the petroleum that we’re using come from our natural resources,” she said. “It is part of our national wealth and we have to use it properly.”

Removal of the sanctions follows the conclusion on Saturday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear body, that Iran has complied with the terms of an international agreement to curb its nuclear development program. Even so, Ebtekar said the removal of sanctions alone won’t be enough to spur Iran’s more ambitious climate pledge.

“It’s more than just a lifting of the sanctions,” she said. “It is practical measures and implementation. We have to witness the actual changes that will come after the lifting of the sanctions.”

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