Leaders: Can Tunisia Afford to Care About Climate Change?

Tunisia’s 2014 constitution has been called one of the most progressive in the world.  It has been praised for its provisions regarding the rights of the disabled, regarding healthcare, and most notably, regarding climate change.  Indeed, Tunisia is one of only three countries in the world to enshrine its commitment to climate stewardship in its constitution.  The preamble recognizes “the necessity of contributing to the preservation of a healthy environment that guarantees the sustainability of our natural resources,” and Article 45 obligates the state to guarantee the right “to a healthy and balanced environment” and to “provide the necessary means to eradicate environmental pollution.”

Nineteen of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred in the past two decades.  Climate change is a real, existential threat that the world faces, and the United States is committed to maintaining the momentum from the Paris Agreement, a historic accord adopted in Paris on December 12, which signals global commitment to addressing climate change by reducing carbon emissions.   In support of the agreement, the United States contributed $500 million in March to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change.  Tunisia is to benefit from the Fund.  Tunisians should feel proud that their government adheres to its constitutional obligations.  In fact, Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui is in New York today to sign the Paris Agreement.

The United States and Tunisia also directly partner on addressing climate change right here in Tunisia.  We are helping Tunisian textile firms meet international standards with respect to quality, worker conditions, and environmental protection.  Thanks to the technical assistance and financial support received through a U.S.-funded job program, some Tunisian firms have been granted ISO certification.  This achievement is not only good for the environment, it is also good for business as more and more international consumers look to buy products from environment-friendly firms.  Environmental protection and economic growth go hand-in-hand to secure a prosperous future for Tunisia.

Climate change directly impacts two major sectors on which the Tunisian economy depends: agribusiness and tourism.  Research indicates that the sustainability of the growth in agricultural production in Tunisia in case of significant climate change could be called into question.  In less than half a century, Tunisia could lose more than one third of its beautiful coastline to climate change.  As with so many of the challenges facing Tunisia, people know that climate change is a problem, and people want to fix it but feel that their small efforts cannot possibly make a positive difference.  As a result, they become frustrated with the pace of change.  In the area of climate change, we all have a long way to go.  But Tunisians, despite all the other challenges they face, have shown they care about climate change.  Really, they can’t afford not to.  None of us can.  Tehya Tounes al KHADRA. [Long Live Green Tunisia]