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Prospects for international co-operation in ensuring climate resilience in Central Asia

Central Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world to climate changes. The region, characterized by drought, sharp temperature fluctuations and low precipitation, as well as heterogeneous distribution of resources, is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

According to the United Nations Development Program, the average annual temperature in Central Asia has increased by 0.5°C over the past 30 years and is projected to increase by 2.0-5.7°C by 2085. The increased frequency and speed of extreme weather events and natural disasters threaten physical security, critical infrastructure and access to health and education. Economic and social instability, low levels of research capacity, and high degradation of agricultural and natural landscapes also negatively affect the ability of Central Asian states to cope with climate change.

1. Climate and related water, energy and other problems have a serious negative impact on all the countries in the region.

First, climate change has threatened the water and energy security of Central Asian countries. Glaciers are shrinking (decreasing in size by 30% over the last 50-60 years), while demand for water and energy in the region is growing. According to forecasts, by 2050 the population of Central Asia will increase from 77 million to 110 million people. According to experts from FAO and the World Bank, water resources per capita in the countries of Central Asia are sufficient (about 2.3 thousand m3) , and the problem in the region is not their scarcity, but extremely irrational use. The availability of domestic renewable water resources in downstream countries is weak.

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This situation will be exacerbated not only by climate change, but also by growth in production, agriculture and population, which will lead to increased demand for water.

The Asian Development Bank ( ADB ) predicts a decrease in water volumes in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya basins by 10-15% by 2050. Rivers are the most important sources of water in Central Asia, which affects water shortages in the countries of the region. The current water deficit in Uzbekistan may increase to 7 billion cubic meters by 2030 and to 15 billion cubic meters by 2050, taking into account the decrease in water volumes in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya basins.

As you know, the biggest environmental problem in the region remains the drying up of the Aral Sea. Countries in the region have very little implementation of water-saving technologies, limited coordination of management systems, and no systematic approach to common water networks, including smaller rivers and lakes. Against this background, more active work is needed by international structures, such as the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and the Interstate Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia on Aral Sea issues.

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Secondly, every year the countries of the region face drought, which reduces crop yields, and in some cases leads to their complete destruction, thereby causing enormous material damage to agriculture and causing a threat to the food security of the entire region. Agriculture accounts for 10-45% of the GDP of Central Asian countries. Agriculture employs 20-50% of the working population, while, according to FAO, more than half of the region’s rain-fed arable land is regularly subject to drought, and almost all irrigated areas experience high or very high levels of water stress.

Drought can also be caused by destructive sand and dust storms that can move billions of tons of sand across continents. Deserts are expanding, reducing the amount of land available for growing food crops.

Heat stress caused by high temperatures exacerbates water shortages and reduces the amount of pasture available, leading to lower crop yields and adversely affecting livestock production.

Third, impacts on energy production from rising temperatures and decreased precipitation, as well as threats to power generation and transmission infrastructure from extreme weather events, undermine supply chains and energy security.

In Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where hydropower plays a central role in the economy, siltation of reservoirs can reduce power production and create additional difficulties for hydropower plant management.

In general, according to the World Bank, negative climate impacts could lead to a 20% reduction in hydroelectric power generation in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the coming years. Increased water temperatures or insufficient quantities of water could negatively affect energy production from thermal power plants in the rest of the region.

Fourthly, the socio-economic consequences of climate change in Central Asia are explained by financial losses caused by the increase in the number and frequency of natural disasters in Central Asia, such as floods, landslides, avalanches, mudflows, sandstorms, fires, causing enormous material damage. According to the World Bank, in five Central Asian countries since 1991, floods alone have affected more than 1.1 million people and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Overall, natural disasters in the region cause losses amounting to about $10 billion. dollars and affect the lives of almost 3 million people every year.

Climate change, accompanied by extreme weather events, further increases the drivers of poverty. Natural disasters can lead to the forced displacement of low-income people. Floods, landslides and landslides destroy populated areas and people lose their livelihoods. Extreme heat and water shortages negatively affect crop yields and, consequently, farmers’ incomes. In addition, according to a World Bank report, by 2050 there could be up to 2.4 million internal climate migrants in Central Asia.

2. The efforts of the Central Asian states to solve global environmental problems are closely related to the activities of the UN in this area. All Central Asian countries have signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, the largest multilateral agreement related to climate change currently in force, which aims to involve all states in the overall process of implementing ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its consequences.

The states of the region take part in all international conferences on environmental protection without exception and have acceded to almost all UN environmental conventions. These include: the Framework Convention on Climate Change; Convention on Biodiversity; Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol for the Conservation of the Ozone Layer; Convention to Combat Desertification; Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal; Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

In recent years, the countries of Central Asia have launched a number of initiatives aimed at attracting the attention of the international community to the environmental problems of the region.

These include the “International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028”, initiated by Tajikistan, and a new draft resolution entitled “Nature knows no borders: transboundary cooperation is key to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”, proposed by Kyrgyzstan.

The need to take effective measures on adaptation to the consequences of climate change has led to a particularly high priority for Uzbekistan on all key issues on the climate agenda. Thus, thanks to the efforts of Tashkent, in 2018, under the auspices of the UN, the Multi-Partner Fund for Human Security for the Aral Sea region was created, which has become a reliable platform for practical assistance from the international community to the population of the region living in a territory with a difficult environmental situation. To date, the Fund has attracted $134.5 million in financial resources from donor countries.

An important achievement was that in 2021, during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, a special resolution proposed by the President of Uzbekistan on declaring the Aral Sea region a zone of environmental innovation and technology, co-sponsored by about 60 states, was unanimously adopted. During the event held in October of this year. At the 3rd International Forum “One Belt, One Road” ( BRI ), the Uzbek side proposed to create, with the participation of leading companies from China and other foreign partners in the Aral Sea region, a Special Demonstration Technology Park for the implementation of industrial and socially significant programs based on the widespread introduction of “green” technologies. The leadership of our country also proposed launching a scientific and information platform for the transfer of “green” knowledge and solutions on the basis of the International Innovation Center of the Aral Sea region.

Uzbekistan regularly takes an active part in the annual meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. During the 27th meeting, held in 2022, the Uzbek delegation advocated consolidating efforts to achieve carbon neutrality, promoting renewable energy sources, climate change adaptation projects, combating desertification and land degradation, introducing water-saving technologies and other climate actions in Central Asia.

Another significant aspect was that the UN supported Uzbekistan’s intention to hold the first International Climate Forum in Samarkand in the spring of 2024, dedicated to climate change issues, which envisages discussing opportunities for international cooperation to reduce risks and threats in the Central Asian region and issues of attracting climate finance. During the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in September of this year. In New York, the President of Uzbekistan took the initiative to adopt the UN General Assembly resolution “Central Asia in the face of global climate threats: solidarity for common prosperity” and proposed discussing its main provisions at the Samarkand Forum.

The leadership of Uzbekistan is also paying increased attention to the integration of conceptual initiatives – the “Green Agenda of Central Asia” and the “Green Silk Road”. In this regard, speaking at the 3rd BRI Forum, the President of the country Sh. Mirziyoyev proposed “to develop a full-scale Green Development Program for the practical implementation of key tasks: green transformation and digitalization of economic sectors; creating sustainable infrastructure in the transport and energy sectors; launching “green” industrial capacities; poverty reduction and development of “smart” agriculture.”

In this context, the Uzbek side also proposed to establish a Green Finance Fund in our country, which will become an effective tool for mobilizing financial resources for the development of a low-carbon economy and clean technologies, as well as the introduction of high environmental standards in the countries of Central Asia.

The above initiatives of Uzbekistan contribute to increasing the participation of our country in ensuring climate sustainability in Central Asia, legitimize, support and strengthen the “green discourse” in the region and beyond, firmly positioning Central Asia as a significant participant in the process of institutionalizing international cooperation in the field of solving pressing problems of climate change and environmental protection. They also clearly fit into the implementation of the main goals and objectives of the Strategy for the transition of the Republic of Uzbekistan to a “green economy” for the period 2019-2030, adopted in 2019.

In general, in recent years there has been an intensification of the contribution of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries to solving the most complex issues related to minimizing the consequences and adapting to climate change in the world and its individual regions. Moreover, as World Bank experts note in the Country Report on Climate and Development , published in November of this year, measures to adapt to climate change and decarbonize Uzbekistan’s energy-intensive economy can help achieve the country’s development goals and improve the well-being of its citizens.

Khoshimova Shahodat
Chief Researcher of the Information and Analytical Center for International Relations under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

Limanov Oleg
Chief Researcher of the Information and Analytical Center for International Relations under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

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