Topics for SOR29 in Baku: Climate Change, Dry Middle Corridor and Transboundary Rivers

19.06.24 22:38

The upcoming Climate Summit (SOR29), scheduled to take place in November 2024 in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a significant event. Azerbaijan is currently at a pivotal crossroads in terms of the main development paths of the world economy, which are highly dependent on climate change.


Firstly, the Middle Corridor – a set of transit routes linking East Asia, Central Asia (Turkestan), the South Caucasus and Europe – is of strategic importance for Azerbaijan, the countries of the South Caucasus and the whole of Eurasia. Moreover, the main challenge and the main problem of the countries of the Middle Corridor – the historical Great Silk Road – is the lack of water and water resources. Furthermore, the climate in this region is characterised by aridity, which is likely to become more pronounced as we move further inland. The economic development of these territories, coupled with climate change, could potentially lead to the drying up of rivers and seas, and the desertification of vast territories.


It is widely acknowledged that the drying up of the Aral Sea represents an ecological catastrophe. However, it is not the only such phenomenon in the arid regions of Eurasia. In China's Xinjiang, the historic East Turkestan, the once vast Lake Lobnor has also dried up. This has made the climate in this region of China even more arid, and the problem of water scarcity has become a significant challenge. In Central Asia, the competition for water resources has reached a point where it is becoming increasingly likely that armed conflicts and regional wars may break out.


We must also consider the situation with water resources in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a neighbouring country to Azerbaijan. In particular, we should not overlook the challenges facing South Azerbaijan. It would appear that the drainless Lake Urmia has dried up.


In light of the challenges posed by climate change and the increasing overall aridity, it is becoming increasingly clear that the role of transboundary rivers is becoming more important. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the low water levels of these rivers are not only a consequence of climate change and increased water use, but also of the pollution that is affecting them.


South Azerbaijan is facing significant challenges with the quality of water flowing through the transboundary Araks River. It is believed that the majority of the pollution originates from the Republic of Armenia. In addition to the Mtkvari River, the Debeda River, which flows from the same Republic of Armenia, also contributes to the pollution of the Araks River.


At the same time, it is worth noting that the problems of pollution of the Araks River and the drying up of Lake Urmia are interrelated. The authorities of West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardabil provinces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to avoid using dirty water from the shoaled Araks, are simply forced to "dismantle" small rivers flowing into Lake Urmia for economic needs and water supply. It is becoming increasingly clear that the problem of transboundary rivers water use and pollution is becoming more complex and challenging to address.


Meanwhile, we are pleased to note that international mechanisms of approach to this problem have already been developed. In 1992, an international convention on the use of waters of transboundary rivers and lakes was adopted in Helsinki. The document suggests that states located in the basin of one river should consider the interests of other countries through which the river flows, take action to prevent pollution of transboundary rivers, water overflow and unilateral changes in river channels and construction of dams, which could potentially lead to downstream countries being without water.


It would appear that, to date, only Azerbaijan has acceded to and ratified the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and Lakes. Georgia has been contemplating the possibility of joining the Convention on the Use of Transboundary Rivers and Lakes for some time, but has not yet taken the step of signing it. It would appear that the Republic of Armenia is not currently considering accession to this convention.


It would seem that Armenia is the main source of pollution of transboundary rivers in the South Caucasus. Furthermore, there have been instances where Armenia has unilaterally interfered in the regulation of transboundary rivers. One such example is the Araks River, which crosses the border with Turkey. As a result of illegal sand mining on the Armenian side, the river changed its course, forming an island with an area of about 400 hectares. The Armenian authorities have proposed the construction of a dam approximately 130 metres long and 8 metres high in the current course of the Araks River. This would involve returning the waters of the river to their former course. The dam is planned to be built on the territory of Araksavan (Sabunchu) and Burastan (Garakhamzali) communities. The already shallow Araks downstream may become even more low-water due to this dam. It is becoming increasingly clear that the water content of the Araks River is decreasing year on year, sometimes by as much as 15-20 per cent. This is a worrying trend that could have serious implications for the water level in the section of the river on the territory of Azerbaijan. It is worth noting that even though water resources are used uncontrollably on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, and that those small rivers that flow to Azerbaijan are deliberately "drained to the limit" by delaying and overdrawing water, the water that is discharged to Azerbaijan and Georgia through these rivers (Debeda River) is unfortunately polluted.


George Kvinitadze


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