Assessing the Impacts of the Iran Nuclear Deal on Climate Change

01 Jul 2016

Assessing the Impacts of the Iran Nuclear Deal on Climate Change

By Aram Kamali

July 2016


On July 14, 2015, the international economic boycott levied against Iran was scheduled to conclude. In concert with the European Union and the P5+1, the Islamic Republic agreed to a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) whereby its capacity for nuclear development would be dramatically curtailed. Among other requirements, Iran is mandated, for a period of 15 years, to cap its uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent – a level far below the weapons-grade enrichment rate of 90 percent. In exchange for these assurances, the international community has pledged to terminate the lion’s share of sanctions imposed on Iran. This entails normalizing trade relations, lifting artificial investment and financial barriers, and unfreezing $100 billion in frozen assets.

Although not immediately discernable, the nexus of this agreement and climate change is distinctive. At the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), Iran was among the 150 nations that drafted and published its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). The government outlined that it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent under the condition that “unjust sanctions” are lifted and never again re-imposed.  This stipulation indicates not a threat from the Islamic Republic, in which it wields sanctions as a tool for political leverage, but rather the impracticality of emissions mitigation without the transfer of financial investment, physical capital, or technological know-how from developed nations. Regrettably, the persistent skepticism of some European banks to issue loans may inhibit this vital process.

The central goal is thus to evaluate the extent to which the JCPOA will enable Iran to fulfill, if not surpass, its mitigation targets. Now that it has reintegrated into the landscape of international relations, Iran is tasked to balance urgent economic development pressures with the principles of environmental sustainability outlined in its INDC. It is therefore apt to highlight the implications, both constructive and destructive, that renewed international engagement holds for issues related to climate change.