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cop29: the caspian region takes the stage at the world’s climate summit

COP29: the Caspian Region takes the Stage at the World’s Climate Summit

Author: David Moran

Apr 16, 2024

Image source: Azertag

This November in Baku, the Azerbaijan COP29 Presidency and the rest of South Caucasus and Central Asia will be in the global limelight. They and the international community should make the most of it. 

The severe impact of climate change on Caspian countries is poorly understood elsewhere. Air temperatures are rising two times faster than the global average. Extreme weather events are more frequent, and more powerful. Caspian Sea levels are falling dramatically and one third of the glaciers of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have melted. Desertification and growing air pollution are contributing to poorer health. These countries have different characteristics and circumstances, but collectively they face a range of water and food security challenges not helped by a complex regional and global geopolitical context. 

The region is responding, with leaders stepping up their collective meetings to discuss issues such as water, food and energy security and the development of sustainable transport infrastructure along the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR). The growing emphasis on solar, wind, and other renewable sources will accelerate their energy transitions and help to diversify their economies.  The development of green grids and regional energy markets would bring many benefits, as will access to critical minerals.  The region is also investing in its population, benefiting from the ideas of younger generations with better access to quality education at home and abroad. 

COP29 can shine a light on Caspian countries, their circumstances, needs and strengths and provide the profile that they deserve.  They can showcase their achievements and potential, advertise their priorities and attract interest and support, with the aim of stimulating new public and private sector investments to support climate action and strengthen regional connectivity and resilience.  

Governments, business, green energy innovators and civil society can all benefit from the environmental, financial, commercial and socioeconomic opportunities.  At least 40,000 people were present at COP26 in Glasgow. More than 85,000 came to COP28 in Dubai. World leaders and their negotiators are joined by business, financiers and investors, scientists, climate and energy experts, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, young people, philanthropists and international organisations. For months before and after the Summit, there are constant political, technical and commercial discussions and extensive media coverage.  

Coverage of COPs goes well beyond host countries and major carbon emitter countries.  Previous Presidencies have used it to focus attention on their own region. In 2022 Egypt energetically promoted their Summit as a COP for Africa. International Organisations such as the African Development Bank and donor countries worked closely with African countries to listen to their priorities and support their ambitions. There were flagship initiatives and funds to announce, regional pavilions, networking and side events. 

A similar approach could work for Central Asia and the South Caucasus, especially if all eight countries are on board at the highest level from the beginning, expressing enthusiasm and commissioning initiatives and events. Egypt showed that host countries can play a special role. In the months before each Summit they receive a constant flow of senior visitors from around the world. 

Whether in Baku or New York in the margins of the UN General Assembly, the Azerbaijan COP Presidency has a powerful platform on which to promote a regional focus and encourage involvement and support.  Other Caspian countries can do the same, using Ministers, senior officials, ambassadors, climate envoys and business leaders to stoke awareness both domestically and abroad.  

Countries can tailor and champion regional initiatives, as can international organisations such as the UN, World Bank, IFC, EBRD, EIB and strategic partners such as the EU, US, UK, Switzerland, Türkiye (as both a partner and a regional corridor state) and Japan. Existing initiatives can be folded in and new ones developed.  Regional events and announcements on Caspian connectivity, clean energy, the Middle Corridor, water and food security can coexist with initiatives particularly relevant for individual or smaller groups of countries. 

In Baku, most of the emphasis will be on core COP business, in particular whether the negotiators can agree ambitious commitments on a long-term climate finance goal, more progress on adaptation support, and Net Zero-consistent emission cuts that bite.  Showcasing the Caspian can only be a modest part of a much wider COP agenda. Despite the attention Africa received at COP27, the overall outcome fell short of African expectations.

Nonetheless, using COP29 to get the world to know the Caspian Region better is worth doing. A spotlight on the impact of climate change on the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus will underline the real-world urgency to act, as well as opening eyes to opportunities. COP29 could mark a new level of international engagement with the Caspian Region.  And not a moment too soon.


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