TBY talks to HE Najeeb A. Al-Rawas, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), on sustainable development, MoUs with other ministries, and encouraging sustainable development.

HE Najeeb A. Al-Rawas
HE Najeeb A. Al-Rawas is an environmental veteran who has served the government of Oman for over 25 years. Throughout his career, he has held various leading positions in the Ministry of Environment as well as the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment. He became the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs in 2013. HE Al-Rawas has played a major role over the years in the development and progress made in environmental management not only in Oman but also in the Gulf region through his participation in many committees and panels working in the environmental and sustainable development arena.

What role does MECA play in evaluating the ecological and environmental impact of new activities named in the ninth Five-Year Plan?

As part of the continued economic development of Oman, the ministry recognizes that these sectors and industries are of great importance as they contribute toward the achievement of the government policy of economic diversification. As the Ministry fosters the objectives of sustainable development, it works with developers both public and private early in the project life cycle to ensure the economic viability as well as the environmental and social soundness of proposed projects. The environmental permits system allows the integration of the best available technologies not entailing excessive economic costs, thus striking the required balance for achieving sustainable development objectives. Our role does not stop here, but continues throughout the project cycle to ensure proper environmental performance and continuous improvement. To give a boost to economic development and to improve the business environment, the ministry is moving forward to decentralize environmental permitting and provide incentives for quality environmental performance.

What kinds of collaborations have been made between MECA and other ministries over the past year, and what can we expect them to bring?

The development of partnerships with other ministries is of great importance to us, as are partnerships with the private sector and society as a whole. Since last year, we have made a lot of progress working with other ministries, authorities, and universities. We have several inter-governmental committees, bilateral committees, and have signed concrete MoUs for joint collaboration with our partners. For example, we worked closely with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), the Ministry of Information, the Information Technology Authority, the Public Authority for Mining, Sohar Industrial Port Company, PDO, and others. In particular, MECA has contributed significantly to the development of the InvestEasy portal, where we have instituted a smooth environmental permitting component within that portal. MECA works closely with the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources on issues related to ground water quality as well as waste and wastewater management. We also collaborate with SQU in many projects such as joint research projects. In addition, the ministry plans to continue its dialogue with other ministries covering different development sectors to foster collaboration and encourage sustainable development policies and practices, ensuring a prosperous future for the Omani people and balanced economic development of the country.

In light of the second seawater pumping station opening at Sohar Port, in what ways does the ministry work to support infrastructural energy-efficiency projects throughout the Sultanate?

As part of Oman's commitments to the Paris Agreement made last year at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP21), the ministry recognizes the vital importance of the adoption of environmentally sound technologies and projects that are energy efficient. The ministry will be advocating and implementing programs and activities in conjunction with partners that are designed to reduce gas flaring from oil industries, to increase the share of renewable energy and to increase the adoption of energy efficiency projects among industries. In addition, the ministry will encourage proponents to be innovative in the development of their projects, to design and operate projects using the best available technologies that are also cost-effective, and to achieve the desired outcomes while protecting the environment. This includes issues such as climate change and the increasing challenge of water scarcity and its sustainable use.

What are some challenges specific to Oman that the ministry faces as a result of climate change?

Climate change is a global phenomenon potentially affecting everyone on the planet. Oman is no exception. According to the Initial National Communication of Climate Change, in the Sultanate of Oman, coastal zones, water resources, and the marine environment are considered to be among the main challenges. In this respect, MECA is currently preparing a National Strategy for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation through which Oman will be prepared to deal with future scenarios of climate change.