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Climate change sets new challenges for Azerbaijan

18 June 2015 15:56 (UTC+04:00)
Climate change sets new challenges for Azerbaijan

By Gulgiz Dadashova

At a time when UN talks are underway to develop a new universally-recognized international climate change agreement, the world is bracing for new wave of global warming from man-derived greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.

Despite international action to curb emissions, global temperatures still have a fifty percent chance of rising above 2 °C by the end of the century. Climate change is indeed inevitable because of solar changes, but anthropogenesis factors, which include past and present carbon emissions, changes in land use, and aerosols, play a substantial role as well.

In its latest report, the International Energy Agency said the past year marks the first time that it has seen a decoupling of energy use and economic growth since being created as the energy watchdog for developed countries in the 1970s.

Pledges already put forward for the Paris meeting with participation of 196 nations in late December 2015, including those from the U.S., European Union and China, could help hold temperature below a 2.6 degrees Celsius increase. That’s significantly less of an overshoot than the 3.6-degree long-term gain in the IEA’s main scenario, issued in November. The United Nations is trying to maintain the increase in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

Scientific evidence shows that for the world to have a good chance of staying within the 2C limit, beyond which climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible, global emissions need to peak by 2020.

Inaction in relation to climate change may lead to the fact that by the end of this century, the temperature of the planet will increase by six degrees, experts say. The flora and fauna of Azerbaijan may also suffer as a result of climate change.

Gulmali Suleymanov, the head of the Climate Change and Ozone Center at the Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry, agrees that the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the greenhouse effect that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

“According to studies, in case the air temperature raises 2 degrees Celsius, it is the same in every corner of the world, including Azerbaijan,” Suleymanov told AzerNews. "However, this figure may reach 7 degrees Celsius in the North. In general climate changes mainly affect the northern part of the world threatening the island countries, as well as coastal countries on oceans.”

Melting polar ice, and the thermal expansion of sea water, can cause rising sea levels and the flooding of low-lying lands.

Suleymanov believes that may result in desertification and warming in a number of regions in Azerbaijan, located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. He noted that increased global warming may hamper growth in certain food crops in some regions.

He reminded citizens that to prevent the negative effects of the climate change, Azerbaijan joined other nations in ratifying the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1995 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2000.

“The first National Communication within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was prepared in 1998-2000. The second one covers 2000-2010. The document provides a national situational analysis, quantifies greenhouse gas emissions, posits a number of future climate scenarios, assesses the vulnerability of various economic sectors and ecosystems, and calls for various adaptation measures,” he said.

He added that the third National Communication is under development and will soon be presented. The third document covers the period from 2006 to 2012, and all state agencies were engaged in drafting the document.

The country’s main environmental problems are wastewater pollution including cross-boundary pollution, the emission of harmful substances and greenhouse gases from industrial plants and vehicles, improper disposal of solid household and industrial wastes including hazardous wastes, the depletion of biodiversity, and a decline in forest resources and fauna, according to the second national communication.

Adaptation policy

There are two main policy responses to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation addresses the root causes, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while adaptation seeks to lower the risks posed by climatic change.

The government now works on assessing the risks and opportunities from climate change and ensuring the country has the capacity to adapt, as it is better to be prepared to rather than to try to cut emissions.

“Greenhouse gas emissions amount to little over 50 million tons of CO2 in Azerbaijan. This is 0.1 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by volume. The expansion of GHG pollution happens globally. So it will be more effective to adapt to changes,” Suleymanov believes.

Suleymanov said the Global Environment Facility, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, and others are funding a number of pilot projects in the country in this regard. These projects mainly cover afforestation, the prevention of desertification, and the degradation of pastures.

At least two to three projects are realized every year, he added.

Assessment of vulnerability and defining vulnerable zones stands at the core of the adaptation process, according to Suleymanov.

“The Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences and other relative agencies work on this. For example, the hydrometeorology department of the ecology ministry has recently installed systems preliminary informing about floods. Such systems were also installed at the Emergency Situations Ministry. In a nutshell, Azerbaijan works hard to prevent natural disasters resulting from climate change.”

Due to a decline in industrial activities since 1990, the level of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere has reduced in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the level of pollution equaling 71.1 million tons of CO2 in 1990, declined to 50.6 million tons of CO2 as of 2008.

Recently, Ecology Minister Huseyn Bagirov said Azerbaijan had committed itself to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 35 percent until 2030.

The measures to prevent ecological disasters are part of the Development Concept “Azerbaijan 2020: Outlook for the Future”, which was approved in 2012.

The concept envisions the necessary measures to protect biodiversity, neutralize the negative impact of the fuel-energy complex on the environment, eliminate pollution in the Caspian Sea and its basin, restore green areas, and effectively protect existing resources.

Ecology expert Ilgar Muradov believes that although climate change mainly affects developed countries, for developing countries, this brings the challenge of, first, how to address the emerging need for adaptation in the face of existing imperatives. Secondly, if these countries maintain current development pathways, they will account for a significant proportion of global greenhouse as emissions by 2050.

He believes it is necessary to take measures to support scientific research in environmental protection and create the necessary infrastructure to support climate change prevention and adaptation.

“A special attention should be paid to public awareness measures with a view to develop international cooperation on the protection of the environment in the country and foster a culture of environmental protection,” he stated.

Muradov also stressed the importance of diversifying the economy. That first of all envisages transitioning from energy oriented to the eco-based economy.


Follow Gulgiz Dadashova on Twitter: @GulgizD

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