In Lebanon, women are making substantial contributions and leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all. As the world commemorates International Women’s Day and comes together for the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, we’re celebrating some of the women who are taking innovative actions for climate adaptation across the country.
See the full virtual photo exhibition, featuring nine women climate action activists whose work is contributing to a greener, more equitable and prosperous future for Lebanon.
In Lebanon, women are leading the fight against climate change
Driving energy initiatives for change
“Energy poverty unfortunately impacts more women than men, therefore as women, we need to have an active role in shaping energy public policy,” says Carol Ayat, an energy finance professional, an investment banker, and a Senior Fellow at the American University of Beirut Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.
She is on the board of the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative “LOGI” and advocates for producing electricity in a sustainable way. She believes green energy is about creating an ecosystem and improving the well-being of citizens.
“In Lebanon, the heavy reliance on fossil fuels for electricity production has had a detrimental impact on public finances and our balance of payments; and lately we faced shortages of fossil fuels which threatened energy security,” Ayat says. “Energy security – the association between national security and the availability of natural resources for energy consumption – is critical for any country to become more energy independent from foreign countries.”
Recycling, upcycling and making Lebanon clean
“If I collect five tons of plastic for every project I complete, and if I realize three projects a year, this means that, at the individual level, I can prevent 15 tons of plastic from ending up in forests, streets, and at sea, over the course of one year. It gives me a lot of joy to know that I am making Lebanon cleaner,” says Caroline Chaptini, a recycling artist, holder of three Guinness World Records in 2020.
Even though she does not consider herself an environmental activist, her work has inspired many young people to pay more attention to waste management and to join recycling initiatives.
“I set my first Guinness record at 36. I never imagined myself doing something even close to recycling,” Chaptini says. “Since then, I truly believe that you can create something out of nothing. Ten years ago, I got divorced. People used to refer to me as ‘the divorcee’. Ever since I embarked on this journey, I became ‘the woman who has won three World Guinness Records.”
Sprouting rooftop gardens make for a greener Al Rashidieh Palestinian refugee camp
“Our environment is our life. Pollution leads to diseases and the spread of viruses which will endanger our health. We can take the right steps to keep our communities clean,” says Aida Ghadban, a Palestinian refugee living in Al Rashidieh camp. Aida helped train over 100 women to grow their own vegetables on their home’s rooftops.
“They learned useful tips including the distance between plants per row, and how to repel insects. Every day I would visit these women at home, to make sure they are taking good care of their plants and watering them,” Ghadban says.
This activity was a turning point for these women.
“It gave them a sense of freedom and they regained self-confidence, they felt they were giving back to their community. They were happy to accomplish new tasks, beyond routine house chores.”
Reshaping the quality of life in Lebanon
“Climate action is not simply about choosing our carbon footprints but understanding our role as human beings on this planet, with much more humility,” says Mona Fawaz, a professor in urban studies and planning at the American University of Beirut and co-founder of the Beirut Urban Lab, a collaborative and interdisciplinary research space producing scholarship on urbanization. Fawaz is the author of over 50 scholarly articles, book sections, and reports.
“In Lebanon, people have been encouraged to abuse the environment. When buildings are audited, it is common to find that about 40 per cent of the uses can be curtailed. With the public policy to deliberately subsidize fuel, people did not care about electricity’s cost,” Fawaz says. “One of our ongoing projects with a lab at MIT is investigating urban and housing regulations. We are trying to recommend urban regulations that size buildings in relation to solar capacity, so urban neighborhood can secure a minimum electric lifeline through affordable solar energy.”
Preserving Lebanon’s trees
“We want people to understand that forestry can be a woman’s job,” says Maya Nehme, the Director of Lebanese Reforestation Initiative, a local NGO which aims at conserving and expanding Lebanon’s forests through a community-based approach and public-private partnerships.
As wildfires in Lebanon have exponentially increased since 2019, reforestation, forest management, wildfires management and land use planning, are needed more than ever. In Lebanon, the number of women specialized in forestry, is not significant, even though the three major NGOs working in forestry, are led by women.
“There is a gap in academia, as the Lebanese University is the only higher-education institution to provide a master’s degree in forestry. My team of experts includes more women than men, while this sector is traditionally dominated by men, worldwide,” says Nehme. “Over the years, we’ve seen heads of municipalities focusing on the need to include more women force in local committees, which we willingly do. This is a success on its own.”
Thinking green leads to acting green
“Even if Lebanon’s coast is not as contaminated as we might think, the situation will deteriorate, if we do not act fast. We need to protect our sea life,” says Myriam Ghsoub a research consultant at the National Center for Marine Sciences in Lebanon.
A firm believer in science, she seeks to understand the global environmental changes caused by human activities which are threatening the physical, economic, and food security of local communities, as well as resources for global businesses.
“At the Center, we consider ourselves to be the family of the sea,” Ghsoub says.
For Ghsoub, an effective response to environment challenges is linked to early detection. Local communities are the main actors in the mitigation of emergency incidents, such as oil spills. Volunteers can be mobilized in cleanup campaigns.
“Change starts with us. We do not have to be decision-makers. Change can begin at home.”
Pedalling climate action
“What sort of world are we bringing children into? We must start the change, individually. We need to act now before it is too late. Let us adopt and promote environmentally friendly commute options, such as walking (when possible), cycling, using the bus, or even carpooling,” says Nadida Raad, a co-founder of The Chain Effect, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of the bicycle as a means of transport in Lebanon through street art, public interventions, community projects and city planning.
The Chain Effect also addresses the ever-growing problem of mobility and lack of public spaces. Over the past years, their “Bike to Work” events have gathered hundreds of participants.
“Creating a cycling culture, requires involvement of the community,” says Raad.
Redefining the concept of empowerment and sustainability
“It is proven that green spaces can absorb air pollution. I realize that we cannot remove the diesel generators now, but what we can do is create a culture of green spaces, especially in villages,” says Najat Saliba, the co- founder and Executive Director of Environment Academy (EA).
EA is an environmental movement led by the American University Beirut (AUB) in collaboration with communities across the country aiming to find transformative and just solutions to environmental breakdown in Lebanon. Dr. Saliba and the team at EA work on climate action with communities in times of unprecedented national crisis. “This is how the Environment Academy came to life; it started from deep frustration with conventional development models and science being silenced,” says Saliba. “We need to be part of the solution.”
Boosting the role of youth in environmental issues
“Young children are very enthusiastic about finding solutions to climate change and to tackle the problem of pollution. Older generations seem more reluctant to take action, as they ask for concrete evidence that human activities are contributing to climate change,” says Nouhad Awwad, the founder of the Lebanese national chapter of the Arab Youth Climate Change. Awwad is also project campaigner at Greenpeace MENA, supporting the implementation of the Ummah For Earth project, a global alliance-led initiative working to empower Muslim communities on climate action.
From beach cleanups to planting trees to representing Greenpeace MENA and the Ummah For Earth Alliance at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Nouhad has been engaging youth in environmental issues since the age of 15. In 2015, at the age of 25, Nouhad established the Lebanese national chapter of the Arab Youth Climate Movement to create early awareness on climate change of young children, at schools.