IDA issues Gulf environmental Blue Paper

Better availability and sharing of environmental data between the Gulf states is among the recommendations contained in a "Blue Paper" released on 18 July 2011 by the International Desalination Association (IDA).

The result of 12 months work carried out by the IDA's global Environmental Task Force (ETF), the Blue Paper also reflects the findings of its symposium Desalination and the Gulf: The Relationship between the Environment and Meeting the Region's Water Needs held in Bahrain in December 2010.

The symposium, which attracted around 200 delegates, and the Blue Paper are intended to minimize potential environmental effects from desalination in the Gulf.

"It is impossible to overstate the importance of a healthy sea to the region's growing populations and economies that rely on it for the majority of their water resources," said Lisa Henthorne, IDA director and co-chair of the ETF. "It is our fervent hope that all governments and stakeholders in the region will work together in an inclusive process, and that this Blue Paper helps shape a platform for action to safeguard the environmental well-being of the Gulf for future generations."

Key findings from the Blue Paper include:

  • The need for an accurate and up-to-date baseline of scientific data that addresses the effects from desalination that can impact the Gulf's environmental condition. This data needs to be transparent and readily accessible to stakeholders in all the Gulf States

  • Viewing of the Gulf as a shared resource, with a mechanism in place to ensure cooperation among all Gulf countries in order for mitigation efforts to have a widespread positive effect. One of the recommended next steps is to explore the opportunity to work with the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment to create a framework for cooperation and the setting of standards.

  • Ongoing environmental monitoring and assessment programs in order for the industry and its stakeholders to judge the success of any mitigation efforts.

  • Mandatory Environment and Social Impact Assessments should be included in Requests for Proposals for any projects that may affect marine habitats.

  • Implementation of increased environmental measures will have an impact on cost of constructing new "greenfield" plants and retrofitting "brownfield" plants currently in operation. While implementation of recommended environmental measures comes at some initial cost, these expenses should be evaluated with respect to the long-term costs associated with doing nothing.

  • Education is essential, not only for industry stakeholders, but also for consumers. It was recommended that such an educational effort address the role of desalination in the region and the quality of water produced, and also the need for conservation and demand management.

  • Sensitivity towards the environment must be balanced with sensibility about desalination. Desalination is critical to providing the region with fresh water. While appropriate measures can be taken to mitigate effects, it is impossible to eliminate every potential impact.

  • Leverage the desalination industry's efforts to encourage other users of the Gulf to assume a similar focus on mitigation strategies and commitment to the environmental health of the Gulf.

  • A follow-up conference should be organised by IDA. A date has not yet been set.

  • It was suggested that the ETF should explore ways in which IDA could initiate the funding of a scientific database, working with the desalination and industry and financial institutions to provide the necessary support. As an alternative, IDA could act as a clearinghouse for information, with a third-party technical assessor and systems auditor having responsibilities to the wider sector.

    "Just as the desalination industry has stepped forward to address environmental concerns, it is up to all other industries that use the Gulf to share in the responsibility for its well-being," said Henthorne, who indicated that these industries include oil and gas, power generation and shipping, among others.

    The full Blue Paper will be available for download on IDA's website.

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