New Treaty on Protecting the Caspian Sea Environment to be Launched in Baku
Under the Convention, which entered into force last August, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan will collaborate on reversing an environmental crisis brought about by habitat destruction, industrial pollution and the over-exploitation of fish and other marine life.
"The regional partnership established by this Convention will assist in the sustainable management of the Caspian’s economically important natural and nature-based resources. This is good news for the millions of people living in the region and for the region’s contribution to global efforts to address climate change and to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, which provided the secretariat for the negotiations.
The Baku conference will advance work on four protocols to the Convention that will set out specific, detailed obligations in the fields of biodiversity conservation, environmental impact assessment, oil pollution incidents and pollution from land-based sources.
The aim is to advance the texts sufficiently to make it possible to adopt them at the next conference in 2008, to be held in Iran. The meeting will also consider a proposal by Iran to launch work on a fisheries protocol and adopt a one-year work programme.
The final day (Friday) will feature a ministerial segment with ministers or deputy ministers representing each of the five countries.
With an area of some 370,886 sq km (143,200 sq mi), the mildly salty Caspian Sea is the largest land-locked body of water in the world. It is fed by some 130 tributary rivers, most importantly the Volga River, which alone accounts for 75% of the total inflow. The Caspian is criss-crossed by a growing network of pipelines and transport routes but has great potential for eco-tourism and for sustainable fisheries and agriculture.
The new treaty commits its member governments to prevent and reduce pollution, restore the environment, use the Sea’s resources in a sustainable and reasonable manner, and cooperate with one another and with international organizations to protect the environment.
More specifically, under the Convention the five governments will:
• Reduce industrial pollution. The Caspian Sea is polluted by industrial emissions, toxic and radioactive wastes, agricultural run-off, sewage and leaks from oil extraction and refining. A particular challenge will be to address the potential consequences of the recent growth in oil and gas production. In 2004, regional oil production reached roughly 1.9 million barrels per day, and other oil supplies transit the region via ship and pipeline. The Parties to the Convention are to prevent and reduce pollution from seabed activities, land-based activities, ships and dumping.
• Protect marine living resources. The Caspian is rich in biological diversity and boasts some 400 endemic (unique) species. The best-known example of the over-exploitation of these biological resources is the dramatic decline of the sturgeon fisheries and the limited quotas for caviar exports set under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Habitat destruction is also a major threat. For example, the building of numerous dams and hydroelectric plants on the Volga has fragmented habitats and harmed many vulnerable species. Meanwhile, now that ships can enter the Caspian from the world’s seas via the Volga-Don Canal, it is easier for invasive alien species such as the highly destructive North American comb jelly to become established and to compete against indigenous species.
Relying on both the precautionary principle and the best available scientific evidence, the five governments are to improve coastal management systems and protect, preserve and restore the Caspian’s marine living resources and use them in a rational manner.
• Address the problem of fluctuating water levels. For reasons that are not yet fully understood (factors could include tectonic shifts, climate variations, sedimentation and human actions), the Caspian Sea’s surface level fluctuates over time. From 1880 to 1977 the sea dropped four metres. A sudden reversal in 1977 caught people by surprise, inundating coastal areas and causing billions of dollars in damages. Efforts to control water levels in an eastern arm of the Caspian known as the Kara Bogaz Gol have proven particularly destructive. The Convention stresses the importance of ensuring that any future efforts to manage water levels do not harm the human or natural environment.
• Collaborate on emergency response. Recognizing the wide range of potential hazards that could suddenly threaten the people and natural environment of the Caspian Sea, the Convention commits its members to cooperate on protecting human beings and the marine environment against the consequences of natural or man-made emergencies. It calls for the development of a detailed plan on prevention, preparedness, information-sharing and response measures.
• Monitor and assess the environment. Building on work conducted under the Caspian Environment Programme, the Caspian Sea governments will cooperate on scientific research, environmental impact assessments and information exchange. The CEP was established in 1995 following an environmental assessment by UNEP, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank.
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