PARE: new Tunisian constitution among the first to include climate clause

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Proposal from MPs, under the guidance of the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) project, gains near unanimous support

In another first for the country that started the Arab Spring, Tunisia has become the first country outside of Latin America to make a constitutional commitment to combatting climate change. 

On 26th January 2014, Tunisia’s constituent assembly passed its long-awaited new constitution, three years after the country toppled a repressive regime and sparked a wave of protest across the Middle East. As well as enshrining full freedom of conscience and gender equality, a constitutional amendment sponsored by the MP Dhamir Mannai has been voted for successfully, hereby including "Contribution to the preservation of the climate" in the new constitution (144 Yes, 21 No, 10 Abstentions).

Mr Mannai is a member of the Climate Parliament Tunisia group, a cross-party network of MPs created under the auspices of the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) project jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme and Climate Parliament

A word of thanks from Mr Dhamir Mannai: "The Climate Parliament Tunisia team is particularly very thankful for the relentless support and effort of Dr. Mostafa El Aouazi and Mr. Nick Dunlop of the Climate Parliament.  Their visit to the Tunisian Parliament in June 2013 and their meetings with the Tunisian MP’s bared fruit.  Furthermore, the continuous contact and lobbying of Tunisian MPs by Dr El Aouazi made a difference in gathering 144 votes for the amendment. 

It is important also to mention that the idea of adding wording on the “Climate” to the new constitution of Tunisia was a recommendation of the Climate Parliament and UNDP specialists during our Mazagan Morocco meetings.  For their great suggestion, we are grateful."

The relevant text from the New Constitution reads:  “Aware of the necessity to contribute to the protection of the climate and to preserve the environment in order to guarantee the sustainability of our natural resources and the sustainability of a good life for the future generations, …..”

Ms Hasna Marsit, a Tunisian MP who helped draft Article 44, said: “The new constitution recognises that Tunisia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The predicted northward expansion of the Sahara desert over the course of the 21stcentury could pose an existential threat to the Tunisian people, who live mostly in a narrow strip of fertile land to the north of the desert.”

The constitutional change is expected to give a significant boost to efforts to build the country’s nascent renewable energy industry. Tunisia hopes to become a major exporter of renewable electricity to Europe, using solar power captured in the Sahara desert.

Speaking after the passage of the constitution, Dr. Mannai said: “The passage of our new constitution is cause for celebration for many reasons. Having successfully challenged an autocratic regime, Tunisia is now ready to face up to a different kind of challenge: that of climate change. The work of the Climate Parliament has been vital in raising awareness amongst Tunisian legislators of the severity of future energy and climate issues, and Article 44 will now help to ensure that our country shows the same fortitude in combatting the climate threat as it displayed in overcoming oppression. ”

The Climate Parliament's Chairman, Sir Graham Watson, agreed. “Tunisia's struggle for freedom and justice has already provided an inspiring example to millions across the Middle East. With the passage of the new constitution, the country now leads the Arab world again, this time on the vital issue of climate change. The commitment and vision displayed by Tunisian legislators in addressing future climate threats cannot fail to set another heartening precedent for governments and legislators around the world.”

For more information on the PARE project, please contact Julia Keutgen at julia.keutgen@undp.org.  For more information on the work of Climate Parliament, please contact Ben Martin at ben@climate-parl.net.