Iranian officials have eliminated the monitoring powers of the Environmental Organization from the final version of the 7th Development Plan of the Islamic Republic, which was released on May 20.
In the initial draft presented by President Ebrahim Raisi's administration, the chapter on the environment and natural resources was entirely skipped from the development plan. And the environmental provisions mentioned in other parts of the text significantly reduced the monitoring powers of the Environmental Organization.
Mansour Sohrabi, an ecology and environment researcher, told IranWire that the changes mean that construction projects will no longer require environmental permits, thereby diminishing regulatory oversight.
According to Sohrabi, the changes also reveal a growing involvement and authority of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the companies under its supervision regarding environmental matters.
The new development plan also opens up greater opportunities for business partners of the Islamic Republic, mainly China and Russia, he warned.
“The 7th Development Plan exhibits numerous flaws, with minimal attention given to environmental matters. This neglect can lead to severe consequences for Iran."
“Public Interest Should Be Prioritized Rather than Government Convenience”
Even the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the IRGC, warned of an impending "environmental disaster," citing the removal of a clause in the 7th Development Plan regarding the "environmental assessment of projects."
There is currently no legislation approved by parliament mandating industries to conduct environmental assessments, and Sohrabi said that removing such a clause could lead to further destruction of the environment because contract companies prioritize their own interests over other considerations.
It is essential for the government to review and endorse the environmental assessment law, which plays a vital role in safeguarding natural resources and in preserving social and cultural structures.
“This should be approached holistically, prioritizing public interest rather than solely focusing on government convenience and facilitation," the environmentalist said.
More Money for Russia and China
Environmental experts have suggested that the removal of the environmental section from the 7th Development Plan will give the Russian and Chinese governments greater freedom to carry out long-term contracts with the Islamic Republic. This implies that any environmental degradation in Iran could occur without hindrance from the Environmental Organization.
"Countries typically devise development plans as a means of progress,” Sohrabi said. “If these programs adhere to principles of sustainable development, they can minimize harm to the land. However, if these programs prioritize economic considerations while neglecting ecological concerns, they can be detrimental."
"Previous development plans in Iran included sections dedicated to ecology and the environment. For instance…the 5th and 6th plans addressed various environmental issues, including pollution in natural areas, forests and pastures,” he noted.
"However, in the 7th plan, only the governance of water resources is addressed specifically. Essentially, the plan lacks provisions for environmental assessments. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without evaluating the potential impact on the land and without determining whether a project can be implemented in an area from an environmental standpoint,” the expert warned.
"Typically, this evaluation should be carried out by the government or an authorized body to ensure unbiased assessments of projects by individuals who are not direct beneficiaries."
The Environment Left to the Wolves
The environmental sector in Iran continues to face significant challenges, with the construction of dams and roads, mining activities and energy transmission lines inflicting deep and often irreversible wounds upon Iran's environment.
It is crucial that the government prioritizes the rights of the people, the environment and future generations over destructive construction projects by intensifying project monitoring.
Sohrabi deplored that “many laws have been passed in Iran, but their practical implementation is lacking” because the government ignores or bypasses these regulations.
The usual Suspect: The IRGC
Sohrabi pointed out that the Revolutionary Guards, particularly its influential Khatam al-Nabiya holding, increasingly “interfere in economic projects.”
“The entire governing system of Iran has essentially become an agent of this powerful holding, aiming to advance its plans and remove any obstacles hindering Khatam al-Nabiya's agenda.”
"Unfortunately, environmental issues are not exempt from this interference. Consequently, their involvement will increase, and affiliated companies connected to Khatam al-Nabiya will have more opportunities to secure contracts. In the absence of accurate assessments, this situation further opens the doors to other countries such as China and Russia."