Unlocking Energy Cooperation: Insights from the C5+1 Summit and Caspian Business Forum
Author: Toghrul Ali
Sep 29, 2023
The strategic significance of the Caspian region on the global stage was reaffirmed during the recent multilateral discussions conducted on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) sessions. The first ever C5+1 Summit with the participation of a United States President took place on September 19, further emphasizing the importance of the U.S.-Central Asia cooperation format. Specifically, at a time of shifting dynamics in energy markets due to Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, energy security and diversification were among the key topics discussed during the C5+1 meetings. Details pertaining to energy cooperation between the United States and the Caspian region were further elaborated on by the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) at the U.S. Department of State Geoffrey Pyatt during the 4th Caspian Business Forum held at the Harvard Club in New York City hours after the C5+1 meeting.
Commenting on the challenges faced in global energy markets, Assistant Secretary Pyatt stated: “Putin’s weaponization of oil and gas resources has also highlighted the risks of allowing one nation to monopolize energy suppliers, a threat that many of the countries in this room all know too well.” In this line, Pyatt underlined the importance of further diversification away from Russia: “All of our countries’ energy security, and therefore our national security and economic security remains at risk until this dangerous dependence on Putin is removed.”
When talking about diversification, Assistant Secretary specially mentioned the vital role of Caspian natural gas in reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian supplies, affirming that it will continue to play its role as we look into the future. “In the Caspian itself, energy diversification is integral to ensuring that the region meets current, domestic, and foreign energy demands, while also pursuing ambitious goals in the clean energy transition,” added Pyatt.
Pyatt also touched upon the obstacles that the Caspian region faces. “Significant work remains to be done to connect the countries in the region – a critical step to advancing our energy security and making the region even more attractive to foreign investment,” he added. Regional gas interconnectors were specifically mentioned as great potential contributors to energy security, as they can improve the efficiency of assets that are already deployed in order to make better use of existing gas supplies. Similarly, electricity interconnections provide flexibility of power sources, helping to prevent “prices from spiking, and markets from fluctuating.”
Connectivity in the Caspian region, especially through the Trans-Caspian Trade Route (also known as the Middle Corridor), were explicitly mentioned in the joint statement released following the C5+1 Summit. According to the readout of the statement, the United States will continue to work with the region to boost investment in and development of the Middle Corridor to help facilitate regional economic integration and resilience. To this end, it was announced after the summit that the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI) will evaluate opportunities to invest in Central Asia’s energy infrastructure and transport networks, including the Middle Corridor.
The historical significance of both the C5+1 Summit and the Caspian Business Forum also stems from their role in delineating various dialogue formats that serve as collaborative mechanisms between the United States and the Central Asian states. Namely, the proposal by the United States to launch a C5+1 Critical Minerals Dialogue develop Central Asia’s vast mineral wealth and advance critical minerals security is an important development in accelerating the region’s energy transition. Given that Central Asia has sizeable potential for critical minerals and rare earth elements, building stable, secure, and resilient supply chains for more advanced extraction and exports of these goods will further facilitate global energy diversification. Another cooperation initiative, the Central Asia Energy Fellowship Program, was launched by ENR to provide technical training, mentorship, and professional development for emerging energy specialists in Central Asia to advance research on clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency in the region.
Clean energy transition was a central part of Pyatt’s remarks: “Today we have an opportunity to meet the twin challenges of the climate crisis and energy insecurity - energy security and energy transition go hand in hand,” he stated. Pyatt particularly highlighted the need to reduce gas emissions in Central Asia for a more sustainable future: “An estimated 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas is lost every year in the region due to vented, leaked, and flared methane – roughly the same amount of gas exported from the Caspian region to Europe.” Considering the sizeable amount of methane emissions, Assistant Secretary Pyatt emphasized that capturing methane from the oil and gas sector is “one of the cheapest and easiest climate solutions we have available today, with significant energy security and economic benefits.”
In addition to Assistant Secretary Pyatt’s keynote remarks, the Caspian Business Forum also included a panel on “Energy and Climate,” with the participation of prominent voices from the region. Kakajan Berdiyev, a Managing Partner at Maslahatçylar HJ, Turkmenistan, talked about the potential linkage between Turkmenistan’s energy and the European markets via Azerbaijan. With the Trans-Caspian Pipeline having been on the agenda for more than three decades, Berdiyev stressed that “the recent developments with the ongoing war in Ukraine have once again shown everyone the significance of securing the energy markets and exports to Europe.” In this line, Berdiyev noted that 18 months of time and around 11.5 billion USD would be enough to launch the first phase of the Trans-Caspian Interconnector between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. As of recently, BOTAŞ, the state-owned energy company of Türkiye extended an import license to Turkmen gas, in addition to other regional countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia having shown interest as transit countries. The growing energy demands underscore the crucial importance of the proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline, and Turkmen gas can be of critical role in addressing Europe’s diversification needs for its energy supplies.
Source: Hechler Photographers
In his remarks, Jubo Turashvili, the Head of Energy Policy and Investment Projects Department for the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, highlighted Georgia’s importance as a transit country. Turashvili specifically talked about the Black Sea Submarine Cable, which will connect the electricity systems of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary. He emphasized that the main goal of this initiative is “ to create environment for the region in order to strengthen energy security, and most importantly, diversify energy resources.” As Georgia is aiming to become a net energy exporter, the Black Sea Submarine Cable provides an opportunity for the country to support the whole region in reaching the end goal of energy independence.
In many ways, the Caspian Business Forum was a logical continuation of the C5+1 Summit, elevating further the strategic global importance of the Caspian region. In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Pyatt mentioned: “Through this elevation of the C5+1 format, we seek to demonstrate to our Central Asian friends that we are a uniquely reliable partner – not by imposing our own interests or our approaches, but by listening to the region and working collaboratively towards shared economic, energy, environmental, and security objectives.” Increased U.S. engagement and cooperation with its partners in the South Caucasus and Central Asia provides a historic opportunity to play an important role in the development of these regions which have been historically considered to be within Russia’s sphere of influence. Now, with the waning of Russia’s influence in the former-Soviet states, the United States is stepping up to the occasion to cement its relations with the Caspian region.