Caspian Conservation Made Legally Binding by 12 August
New treaty on conservation and sustainable development of Caspian Sea debuts 12 August
Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan to collaborate on protecting the marine environment
Geneva, 24 July 2006 – The Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea – the first legally binding agreement on any subject to be adopted by the five Caspian neighbours – will enter into force on 12 August.
The Convention will coordinate efforts by the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan to reverse an environmental crisis brought about by habitat destruction, industrial pollution and the over-exploitation of fish and other marine life.
“The Caspian Sea’s fragile environment is extremely vulnerable to the region’s current boom in oil and gas exploration. Climate extremes and economic and political challenges also put pressure on the Caspian’s natural resources,” said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, under whose auspices the Convention was negotiated.
“Restoring the Caspian’s fisheries and unique habitats to health while reducing industrial pollution will boost the well-being of millions of people living in this beautiful but troubled region. This new Convention is yet another example of how environmental cooperation can promote both political goodwill and sustainable development,” he said.
With an area of some 370,886 sq km (143,200 sq mi), the mildly salty Caspian Sea is the world’s largest lake. 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.
Also known as the Tehran Convention after the city where it was adopted, 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 current halt in caviar exports 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 the precautionary principle and the best available scientific evidence, the five governments is 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. The Caspian Sea governments will cooperate on scientific research, environmental impact assessments and information exchange. To this end they will also strengthen and support the Caspian Environment Programme, which has fundamental role to play in the Convention’s implementation. The participating governments established the CEP in 1995 following an environmental assessment by UNEP, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank.
To mark the Convention’s entry into force, UNEP, through its GRID-Arendal centre, together with the Caspian Environment Programme has launched a new publication entitled “Vital Caspian Graphics: Challenges Beyond Caviar”. The report’s state-of-the-art maps and graphics examine key vulnerabilities as well as solutions to the issues addressed by the Convention. (To obtain a copy see contact details below).
With the Convention now in force, the Parties will meet on a regular basis to assess progress and consider the need for additional action or for new legal protocols. Their first meeting will likely be held in early 2007.
Note to journalists: For more information, please contact:
UNEP – Michael Williams (Geneva) at +41-22-917-8242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org; UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall (Nairobi) at +254-2-62-3084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or email@example.com; or Elisabeth Waechter at +254-207-623088 or Elisabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caspian Environment Programme – Hamid Ghaffarzadeh (Tehran) at email@example.com or +9821-22059574.
Key web sites:
• The Convention text and information on the Caspian Environment Programme is posted at www.caspianenvironment.org.
• “Vital Caspian Graphics” with maps and other environmental information can be found at www.grida.no/products.cfm?pageID=12 or contact Claudia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Azebaijan – Mr. Gouseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, email@example.com
Iran – Mr. Seyed M. Nabavi, Director General, Marine Environment Research Bureau, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kazakhstan – Mr. Alzan H. Braliev, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment Protection, email@example.com
Kazakhstan – Mr. Alexandre Bragin, Director, Department International Cooperation and Ecological standards, Ministry of Environment Protection, firstname.lastname@example.org
Russian Federation – Mr. Amirkhan M. Amirkhanov, Deputy Head, Department of State Environmental Policy, Ministry of Natural Resources, email@example.com
Russian Federation – Ms. Natalia Tretiakova, Division of Regulating of Bilateral Cooperation, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Natural Resources
Russian Federation – Mr. Andrei Pronin, Department of International Organizations
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Turkmenistan – Mr. Makhtumkuli Akmuradov, Minister of Nature Protection, email@example.com