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Lebanon - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Lebanon occupies only 0.007 % of the world’s land surface area and is home to 1.11% of the world’s plant species and 2.63% of reptile, bird and mammal species. The country counts about 2,600 terrestrial plant species, 8.5% of which are broadly endemic to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, and 3.5% strictly endemic to Lebanon. The country notably boasts one of the highest densities of floral diversity in the Mediterranean basin which is one of the most biologically-diverse regions in the world. It hosts tree species with critical biogeographical locations (southernmost limit) on the western slopes of Mount Lebanon’s mountain range: Cedrus libani A. Rich. in the Shouf Biosphere Reserve; Abies cilicica Boiss. in the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve; Ostrya carpinifolia Scop. in Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve. Similarly, the vegetation of Lebanon has an exceptionally high species/area ratio (0.25 species/km2), compared with countries such as South Africa (0.0081 species/km2). A notable keystone and flagship plant species in the country is the Lebanese cedar (Cedrus libani) that has been exploited since the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent.

Lebanon is located within an area of mega-diversity in terms of important agricultural food crops and pasture species (e.g. wheat, barley, lentils, lathyrus, vetch, medics, clover, almonds, plums, pears, pistachio, onions, garlic). The country’s faunal diversity (0.028 species/km2) is also high relative to its surface area when compared to that of neighboring countries (0.019 species/km2 for Syria; 0.017 species/km2 for Libya; 0.046 species/km2 for Jordan). Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate and is provided with a wealth of habitats (e.g. islands, coastal lands, rivers, mountains of an elevation of 3,088 metres above sea level). Its sea is home to about 1,790 species, representing almost 2.7% of the world’s marine species.

Yet, at present, much of Lebanon’s biodiversity is heavily threatened by human activities. Although National Red Lists for Species in Lebanon do not exist, reports indicate that up to 5% of Lebanese fauna is threatened. Further, 7 mammal species are extinct (e.g. Syrian Brown Bear, Mesopotamian deer, Arabian gazelle); 31% of mammal species are reported as rare, 20% as vulnerable and 7.5% as close to extinction. Among bird populations, 1 species is reported as critically endangered, 1 as endangered, 9 as vulnerable and 16 as near-threatened. Ninety-six terrestrial floral species, most of which are endemic to Lebanon, are listed as rare or threatened. Finally, the marine ecosystem counts 68 threatened species and 5% of the country's freshwater fauna is threatened.

Benefits derived from ecosystems are essential to the Lebanese economy. For example, the economic value of forest systems is estimated at USD 131.5 million, with approximately USD 23.5 million/year derived from the harvest of medicinal and aromatic plants from forests, and USD 8.58 million/year derived from the production of 22,000 tons/year of nuts (pine nut, walnut, almond). Other parts of the economy that rely heavily on biodiversity include fishing (with fishermen being among the poorest in Lebanese society), livestock grazing, horticulture, agriculture and ecotourism.

Lebanese laws, decrees, ministerial decisions and resolutions protect most of the nature sites in the country. The sites are classified and protected to a varying degree at the national level, and include nature reserves, protected forests, protected natural sites/landscapes, Hima (local community-based conservation practice). Some of these sites have acquired one or more international designations. In Lebanon, there are currently 4 Ramsar sites, 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 15 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (under Birdlife International), 1 Specially Protected Area (SPA) and 2 Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI) (under the Protocol of Specially Protected Areas and Biodiversity of the Barcelona Convention).

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Threats to biodiversity, most of which stem from human activities, include: habitat loss due to urbanization, destruction of coastal zones and extension of agricultural areas; unsustainable harvest of natural resources, notably through overhunting, overharvesting, overfishing and escalating uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater; pollution due to the spread of modern chemical-intensive agriculture and the discharge of effluents into rivers; invasive alien species, particularly the introduction of marine species through the Suez Canal and the importation of ornamental and donated forestry plants; civil war (1975-1990) and repeated periods of political tension resulting in unstable management practices. Finally, climate change constitutes a major threat to biodiversity and is expected to increase the likelihood of major changes to terrestrial ecosystems (e.g. regression of forest to shrubland or grassland, increase in rodents and their predators, shifts in routes of migratory birds), along with water shortages, increasing temperatures and more frequent and intense storms.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Lebanon’s NBSAP was developed in 1998. In 2005, an addendum was prepared to align the targets of the existing NBSAP with the 2010 Global Biodiversity Target. The NBSAP is divided into 4 thematic areas: terrestrial ecosystems and natural habitats, freshwater (inland waters), marine, agrobiodiversity, in addition to sections dedicated to in situ conservation, urban biodiversity conservation, biosafety, international cooperation, strategy implementation. Measures to implement the NBSAP include the expansion of protected areas, biodiversity studies and updates, elaboration of national laws and policies, capacity-building and public awareness-raising, creation of partnerships with local stakeholders, NGOs and international agencies and implementation of operational projects. Lebanon intends to begin revising its NBSAP shortly.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Significant progress has been made in terms of biodiversity protection since the preparation of the NBSAP in 1998, with improvements in the legal framework, notably in relation to in situ conservation, considered the main achievement. Concepts linked to the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainability have been integrated into: processes for gathering, processing and marketing globally significant Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs); sustainable hunting approach in the new Hunting Law (2004); EIA, SEA; agrobiodiversity; agricultural policy; major development sector policies.

Collaboration among stakeholders featured in the production of biodiversity-related strategies, notably the National Strategy for Forest Fires (2009), and the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Strategy (2012) developed in response to the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (particularly Target 11). The purpose of the MPAs Strategy is to set national priority actions needed for the establishment of new marine protected areas in Lebanon and for the proper management of existing and new MPAs, and to define the type of interventions that are needed at technical, research, regulatory, policy, institutional, financial, educational, capacity-building, communication and promotion levels.

Progress has been made recently through the adoption of new legislation, such as Decree No. 8213 (2012) on “Strategic Environmental Assessment for Proposed Policies and Plans and Programs in the Public Sector” (SEA Decree); Decree No. 8633 (2012) on the “Fundamentals of Environmental Impact Assessment” (EIA decree which requires that, before a permit is granted, all major development, infrastructure and industrial projects be subjected to EIA or IEE studies so that the potential impact of these projects on the environment, including biodiversity, can be evaluated). Further, Decree No. 8157 (2012) relates to the establishment of the National Council for the Environment which includes 14 members from the public and private sectors and civil society. Decree No. 8471 (2012) relates to environmental compliance for infrastructure.

Further, in 2012, nine ministerial decisions were issued regulating hunting practices, including procedures regarding a hunting test and hunting permit. Also issued the same year was a new ministerial decision regulating the wild harvesting of two medicinal and aromatic species (sage and oregano), in accordance with sustainability criteria (time, quantity, method), as well as the terms related to the transport and export of these species. Under this new decision, a permit must be obtained for all sage and oregano collected in Lebanon for commercial purposes.

Biodiversity conservation is addressed, directly or indirectly, through actions formulated for implementing the UNFCCC, UNCCD, World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Convention. The number of nature reserves increased from 8 in 1999 to 14 in 2011. Biodiversity field surveys in candidate marine protected areas were carried out between 2010 and 2012 for the purpose of establishing a national marine protected areas network. Research has been promoted and partnerships have been created with local populations, notably surrounding protected areas, to involve them in the protection and the sustainable use of the reserves. In addition, training, public-awareness and educational programs have been introduced, such as the creation of magazines tackling environmental and sustainable development issues at the global, regional and local levels; introduction of a Biodiversity Clearing-House (http://biodiversity.moe.gov.lb) and Biosafety Clearing-House (http://biosafety.moe.gov.lb); dissemination of a biodiversity database online (e.g. http://www.lebanon-flora.org); integration of environmental concepts in school curricula; organization of educational and extra-curricular programs by NGOs.

Large projects have been carried out to combat species extinction, such as the GEF-funded project on the Integrated Management of Cedar Forests in Lebanon in Cooperation with other Mediterranean countries (2004-2007), which addressed the serious threat that an invasive insect species was causing to the cedar trees in the Tannourine Cedar Forest Nature Reserve (which is one of the 12 surviving stands of cedar forests in Lebanon), and the GEF-funded project for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Dryland Agrobiodiversity in the Near East (1999-2004).

Other projects related to biodiversity conservation and mainstreaming have been initiated, such as the GEF-funded project on “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Management into Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) Production Processes in Lebanon” (2009-2013) which aims to integrate conservation objectives into gathering, processing and marketing of globally significant medicinal and aromatic plants. Another project on “Supporting the Management of Important Marine Habitats and Species in Lebanon” (2010-2013) aims to enable the development of a network of Marine Protected Areas in Lebanon (MPAs) and an associated monitoring program to evaluate management effectiveness in MPAs. The project assists in designing and managing marine protected areas, restoring impacted marine habitats and species, as well as in improving knowledge relevant to the management of marine resources.

Further, policies have been introduced prohibiting tools, techniques and practices that may cause harm or loss to biodiversity (e.g. trawling nets, dynamite and shotguns, types of fishing and instruments for fishing, illegal fish size). A ban was also imposed on the import and introduction of certain species (e.g. cedar seeds and plants) and in regard to the fishing and trade of whales, monk seals and marine turtles. According to the new Hunting Law (2004), hunting is allowed only in the specified hunting season and for specific game species defined by the Minister of Environment. The main constraint remains the proper enforcement of this legislation.

The National Ten-Year Strategy Plan for Water (2000-2009) led to the construction of a series of dams and lakes to store surplus water, promotion of drinking and irrigation water projects and to addressing wastewater and water quality problems. Finally, a National Action Plan for Solid Waste Management was developed, identifying suitable locations for the establishment of facilities. Projects falling under this legislation are subject to environmental impact assessment studies to evaluate their consequences on environmental components, such as biodiversity.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Biodiversity mainstreaming is being initiated in Lebanon. Many actions aimed at conserving and sustainably using biodiversity relate to different sectors and fall under the responsibility of various ministries and institutions. Biodiversity protection within the CBD framework is specifically referred to in the National Reforestation Plan, particularly in restricting the forest tree species used in reforestation to native species only and in banning the use of any restoration method that could harm the existing biodiversity at the site, and in the Marine Protected Areas Strategy (2012). Biodiversity conservation is also addressed in the Hunting Law (2004), the Desertification National Action Plan (2003), the National Master Plan for Land Management (2009) and the National Strategy for Forest Fires (2009). While other policies may not highlight biodiversity specifically, they do however integrate environmental considerations in general. Examples of the latter include the “National Master Plan for Quarries” (2009) and the “National Plan for Integrated Solid Waste Management in Lebanon” (2010) which foresees, for the first time, the adoption of waste to energy technologies (in the coastal zone only) which, when applied, will lead to the closure of all open burning dumpsites in the country and end their negative impact on the environment. In addition, the “National Water Sector Strategy” (developed in 2010 and endorsed by the Council of Ministers in 2012) includes an investment plan (2011-2015) covering 5 pillars, one of which relates to environmental concerns. This pillar will mainstream environmental concerns into the water sector for the protection of water resources and recharge zones, flood mitigation, improvement and refinement of knowledge on climate change and its implications on water resources and its vulnerability, institutionalize Strategic Environmental Assessment in the planning cycle.

Other sectors are contributing indirectly to biodiversity mainstreaming. For instance, this is being achieved by the tourism sector through the promotion of ecotourism activities; by the education sector through the integration of environmental education into various disciplines of school curricula; by the communication sector through the coverage of environmental news and topics in the media and on the Internet; and by industry through agreement with the environmental conditions defined by the Ministry of Environment for the establishment and operation of each industrial establishment during the permit issuance process.

Finally, Lebanon receives financial support from several international donors, including GEF, EU, GIZ, in addition to the USA, France, Italy, Spain, among others. Lebanon also executes environmental projects in partnership with many international organizations such as UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment have been introduced in urban and land use planning along with practical guidelines for integrating biodiversity.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme