Strengthening resilience in Central Asia through climate change adaptation measures in transboundary river basins

Publication date: 10 November 2021
Strengthening resilience in Central Asia through climate change adaptation measures in transboundary river basins

8 November 2021, the Executive Director at Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia Zafar Makhmudov had a floor at the event dedicated to strengthening environmental resilience in Central Asia. The event was organized by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU with the support of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

The aim of the event is to explore how to facilitate climate-resilient transboundary water management in Central Asia and thus contribute to overall environmental, economic and social resilience.

In his speech, the Executive Director at Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia Zafar Makhmudov emphasized that strengthening environmental resilience and climate change adaptation measures in transboundary river basins are particularly actual for Central Asia.

Central Asia already suffers from the significant impact of climate change. Freshwater availability in the Region, particularly in large Amudarya and Syrdarya river basins, is projected to decrease, adversely affecting population growth and increasing demand arising from higher living standards in the Region by the 2050s. At the same time, 80% of countries' total areas are located within transboundary river basins, meaning that existing planning and water management practices will need to be revised," said Zafar Makhmudov.

He expressed concern over climate change situation in Central Asia. “Climate change is already an emergency in Central Asia," said Zafar Makhmudov and highlighted that countries of Central Asia join their efforts to resist climate change challenges.

I am speaking from Glasgow, where CAREC managed to organise, for the first time in the history of UNFCC COPs, a pavilion dedicated to Central Asia, where Countries are actively promoting their activities and facilitating the dialogue with the many stakeholders present at the COP26.

Indeed, it is an outstanding achievement, and we are proud that our Region is finally showing the world its potential for sound cooperation. Central Asia offers a long track record of fruitful exercises of multilateralism for the stability and peace of the Region and beyond, including the new geopolitical problems posed by the collapse of Afghanistan.

We are here in Glasgow to raise our voices to attract more support to overcome environmental and sociopolitical threats for stability and peace of the Region and, ultimately, of the relationships with neighbouring countries and the rest of the world, including our longstanding partnerships with EU MS and EU Institutions," stated Zafar Makhmudov.

CAREC Executive Director noted that countries of Central Asia are eager to learn international experience of managing transboundary water resources and the Sava River basin can serve as inspiring example.

It is particularly inspiring to learn how the riparian countries in Eastern Europe renewed the water collaboration by developing new legislative and institutional frameworks viable in the post-1990 political paradigm.

Agreeing on a proper legislative framework from the very beginning is key to successful regional cooperation.

The development of the integrated Sava River Basin Management Plan (Sava RBMP), in line with the EU Water Framework Directive, is undoubtedly one of the main attractive points for our Region. The Plan has successfully established a legal framework to protect and enhance the status of all waters and protected areas, including water-dependent ecosystems, prevent their deterioration, and ensure long-term, sustainable use of water resources.

Central Asian Countries might be interested in finding inspiration from the Sava River Basin's Water and Climate Adaptation Plan, with its Guidance Notes on climate adaptation of various water sub-sectors, including navigation, hydropower, agriculture, flood protection, and economic evaluation of climate change impacts," said Zafar Makhmudov.

Zafar Makhmudiv shared his opinion on how climate-change adaptation measures in transboundary river basins may help Central Asia strengthen its environmental resilience.

Climate change requires adaptation at all levels: from local to basin, national and regional levels. Coordination among the various administrative levels is crucial for successful adaptation interventions.

In 2020 CAREC developed the Handbook on watersheds' management that includes elements of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as part of the basin planning cycle. SEA is a comparatively new concept for the Region. However, in Central Asia, its systematic and comprehensive process can contribute to informed decision-making about environmental protection and sustainable development, especially for plans and programmes involving water management lines. Such an approach prioritises ecological issues in the planning process and assesses all other planned actions from their environmental consequences.

Adaptation measures in transboudary basins of CA must foresee more effective natural resource management practices. For example, adopting the principles of a circular economy, particularly the reuse of domestic and industrial wastewater, would significantly mitigate the water quality problems in the Region.

In the last three decades, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea has been developing the Action Program to assist the countries of the Aral Sea Basin. It is an essential mechanism for addressing and, hopefully, solving water management, environmental and socio-economic problems due to the drying up of the sea.

A new Regional Protection Program Environment for Sustainable Development of Central Asia aims to regionalise environmental SDGs, implement the Paris Agreement on climate, and introduce green economy principles in the shared basin of the Central Asia region.

However, implementing regional and transboundary efforts for better environmental resilience requires concerted actions of all riparian countries. And at this point, it is specifically helpful to learn the practical cooperation approaches in the Sava river basin," stated Zafar Makhmudov

He believes that the countries of Central Asia may enhance cooperation with the EU and its Member-States under the reference framework of the Joint Communication on "The EU and Central Asia: New Opportunities for a Stronger Partnership" of 2019, the new EU strategy for Central Asia.

It provides a new policy framework for EU engagement with the countries of Central Asia over the coming years, focusing on promoting resilience, prosperity, and regional cooperation in Central Asia.

The EU-CA Platform on Environment and Water Cooperation and its EU-CA Working Group on Environment and Climate Change, co-chaired by the European Commission and Italy, are the reference framework for implementing the EU Strategy in the Region. CAREC has been called to participate in the WGECC Meetings to discuss ongoing activities and possible future opportunities. We imagine that provided the importance of this long-lasting process, EU MS will more and more be involved in the Region through this unique platform of dialogue and concrete activities, whose technical Secretariat is financed by the EU Project WECOOP.

As well represented in the EU Strategy for Central Asia, our is a region of opportunities, and the EU and its Member States are the most interesting potential partners to develop joint activities and fruitful cooperation by sharing examples and best practices," said Zafar Makhmudov

Concluding his statement, CAREC Executive Director Zafar Makhmudov highlighted importance of Central Asia Pavilion at COP26 UNFCCC. “We are working hard, in a highly successful pavilion, presenting Central Asia to the world: we are 5 Countries united in 1 Region, and, for the first time, speaking as 1 voice at a COP," stated Zafar Makhmudov.

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