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Azerbaijan and Georgia: taking the silent lead on climate action

COMMENT: Countries of Caucuses and Central Asia are the unsung heroes in the fight against global warming

Pic: Dare/Flickr

Pic: Dare/Flickr

By Liz Gallagher

The momentum on climate over the past few weeks feels real. 

The positive signals from some of the world’s largest economies is good news. But a deal just between the big emitters won’t deliver sufficient ambition.

Only a multilateral agreement can create enough external pressure for ambition from those who truly value climate stability as core to their national interest.

And as the deadline for the 2015 agreement in Paris draws near, many of the unusual suspects are beginning to see what this agreement holds for them.

Countries like Azerbaijan and Georgia often seem like ‘terra incognita’, except to those Europeans with a penchant for Eurovision song contest.

This is reflected in the negotiations, where countries from the Caucuses and Central Asia have been relatively passive compared to their peers from South East Asia or Latin America.

Some countries within the region have a legacy of prioritising their interests in securing offset projects and many have often lingered in Russia’s shadow.

Whilst these countries are diverse, many are resource endowed. Take for instance Azerbaijan. Oil and Gas contribute around 40% to GDP.

To put this in perspective, in Saudi Arabia it contributes towards roughly 50% of GDP.  In Tajikistan, 90% of the country’s energy is supplied by hydropower.

At first glance it is therefore surprising these countries are choosing climate change as the platform to put their mark on the world.

Azerbaijan was one of only 40 countries to send a minister to 2014 climate negotiations in Bonn (Pic: David Davidson/Flickr)

Azerbaijan was one of only 40 countries to send a minister to 2014 climate negotiations in Bonn (Pic: David Davidson/Flickr)

But on closer inspection, these countries share some common elements in relation to the 2015 climate agreement.

Their geopolitical relationships with their neighbours are highly complex and sensitive, they are often viewed as strategic ‘assets’ by their larger counterparts in the EU, Russia, Turkey and China, who are proactively courting (and in some cases occupying) these countries for influence in these resource rich regions.

In this context, global rules matter to these countries. Rules protect them. Without international institutions and with rising climate impacts, resources will become scarce and inequality increase, leading to many more slipping into poverty, potentially resulting in conflict.

But it’s not only the importance of the rules based regime which unites these countries.

Their exposure to unmanageable climate risk is significant.  The recent report for the IPCC states Central Asia is expected to become warmer in the coming decades and increasingly arid.  Shrinking glaciers are expected to increase creating floods in the short-term, but droughts in the longer term.

Water threat

Countries like Uzbekistan that depend on irrigated agriculture, consuming more than 90% of the water resources of the Amu Darya basin, would be crippled by such fluctuations.

The situation is similar in the Southern Caucuses, temperatures will rise and agricultural production will be threatened by dwindling water supplies.

And critically the new urbanised economies these countries are initiating will be put under significant heat stress, causing damage and costs to productivity.

As such these countries are beginning to understand how their national interest can be secured in a more ambitious 2015 climate agreement.

The engagement of countries like Georgia and Tajikistan in the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action is a refreshing example of the ‘can do’ attitude and diplomatic approach.

Azerbaijan sending a Minister to the recent Bonn session and outlining they are willing to accept more responsibility was another example of these countries standing up and being counted.

Diplomacy is all about having ‘skin in the game’: the more you do and say, the more traction you have with others.

Given their resource base and geostrategic context, Central Asia and the Caucuses are crucial in building a force field of pressure around the key emitters and creating a successful deal in 2015.

Liz Gallagher leads UK thinktank E3G’s climate diplomacy programme. Follow her on twitter @LizGallagher 

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