Climate change became one of the biggest challenges to our planet and every creature living on it. Therefore, it is acknowledged as one of the key global challenges of the 21st century. Numerous reports and official statements of states and international organizations emphasize the potential threat from climate change that inertia increases the risk of conflict and instability, as well as undermine human security. In Central Asia and Afghanistan, it is predicted that the warming climate might shrink the glaciers, which would impact the distribution of water, irrigation systems and other dependent structures.
In order to discuss the regional issues caused by climate change, on January 28, 2020, Berlin welcomed foreign ministers of the five Central Asian states and Afghanistan at the conference titled “Green Central Asia. Enhancing environment, climate and water resilience”. The conference that brought together 250 leading figures in various fields was opened by Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas and High Representative of the European Union (EU) Josep Borrell Fontelles. The aim of the high-level dialogue was the launch of the Green Central Asia initiative.
The initiative that will be implemented within the new EU Strategy for Central Asia aims to develop science-based and collaborative solutions on climate change and associated issues across the region. By forging regional cooperation, the initiative will include projects in the field of environmental protection, biodiversity, renewable sources of energy, land management, and sustainable agriculture and scientific cooperation at various levels [MFA of Germany, 2020]. The participating states, together with their European colleagues, emphasized the importance of collaboration in environmental issues, while admitted the growing risks arising from the climate crisis and subsequent environmental and development issues.
Notably, a week before the event, the EU Council adopted the Conclusions on EU Climate Diplomacy that were announced as “a clear sign that in 2020, the climate will be one of the priorities in the EU’s external policy” [Council of the EU, 2020]. Hence, the implementation of the Green Central Asia initiative lies in accordance with the key direction of the EU strategy in enhancing international climate cooperation. In fact, the EU has long taken leadership in promoting international climate negotiations. In the 2009 Copenhagen climate change negotiations, the EU was advocating the adoption of a domestic climate policy and during the enactment of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015, the EU was praised as one of the driving forces of the negotiations [Biedenkopf and Petri, 2018]. In early 2015, the European Commission itself adopted the EU Action Plan for Climate Diplomacy, which led to the adoption of the Council Conclusions on EU Climate Diplomacy on January 20, 2020. At present, the EU aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. However, according to Josep Borrell Fontelles, Europe cannot tackle this alone and needs collective measures. For instance, the share of the EU’s CO2 emissions represents only 9% of global emissions [European Commission, 2020]. Therefore, the EU has been actively pushing other countries to adopt a more ambitious climate policy.
Within the EU, Germany plays an active role in climate diplomacy. Since early 2011, the German Foreign Office has been implementing a long-term process of climate diplomacy engagement by covering all regions of the world. Its efforts are related to the implementation of documents within the EU and the UN [Adelphi, 2017]. Germany’s role in developing regional collaboration between Central Asia and the European Union on environmental issues is also substantial. Germany from its outset was among the major initiators of the environmental cooperation with the Central Asian region. Back in 2008, the German Foreign Office launched the so-called Berlin Process or the “Central Asia Water Initiative”, which had been successfully implemented in three phases until 2017. The German Central Asia Water Initiative contributed to the implementation of the EU strategy in the region through its projects in the field of water, cross-border water management and scientific networking. Overall, there were three components of the program: the Transboundary Water Management in Central Asia program implemented by GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation; the CAWa project (“Water in Central Asia”); and the Master program “Integrated Water Resources Management” implemented at the German-Kazakh University [Waterca.org; CAWa Project, 2016]. The launch of the Green Central Asia initiative is another apparent example of Germany’s commitment.
Accordingly, relying on the previous experience with the mentioned projects, the German partners developed the Green Central Asia initiative to contribute to a multiple-level dialogue on climate change for providing security and stability of the region. As mentioned by Heiko Maas, the project will be implemented together with experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. He also outlined the next step that will be the second Berlin Climate and Security Conference on June 15-16, 2020, to which he invited participants [European Commission, 2020].
From the EU side, Josep Borrell Fontelles has announced that later this year, another project that is aligned with Germany’s Green Central Asia initiative will be launched. In addition, the EU will focus on security implications of climate change in the Fergana Valley by working with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan [European Commission, 2020]. On their turn, the Central Asian and Afghan foreign ministers appreciated the projects implemented with the support of the EU and Germany and highlighted the importance of regional cooperation with the EU structures in the field of environmental protection and joint combat against climate warming. As a result of the meeting, the foreign ministers of the six countries and Germany signed a joint declaration that documented their intention to jointly develop climate diplomacy and maintain security in Central Asia and Afghanistan within the framework of Green Central Asia. Germany, together with all stakeholder states, agreed to continue developing an action plan by transforming proposals made during the conference into the concrete action plan [Green Central Asia, 2020].
It is worth mentioning that in June 2019, the EU adopted a new EU strategy on Central Asia and, based on it, allocated a total of 28 million euros in November 2019 for funding three programs to endorse the rule of law, trade, investment and growth in the region [Khassenkhanova, 2019].
All these measures show that the EU has been increasing its interest in the Central Asian region, while climate diplomacy is among the key areas to engage with. Paying reasonable attention to the potential of Central Asian cooperation, the EU aims to develop its resilience strategy in the region. Notably, the EU, as well as Germany, has a long history of interaction with the region in the field of environmental protection, therefore the Central Asian counterparts welcome the new initiative with great enthusiasm. Indeed, the EU, with its excellent expertise in climate policy, could contribute to the development and implementation of environmental strategies of the Central Asian states.
Adelphi (2017). Climate Diplomacy – Foreign Policy Responses to Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.adelphi.de/en/publication/climate-diplomacy-foreign-policy-responses-climate-change. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Biedenkopf, Katja and Franziska Petri (2018). EU Delegations in European Union climate diplomacy: the role of links to Brussels, individuals and country contexts. Journal of European Integration, DOI: 10.1080/07036337.2018.1551389.
CAWa Project (2016). Policy Briefs of the “German Water Initiative For Central Asia”. Retrieved from https://www.cawa-project.net/ru/news-detail/news/policy-briefs-of-the-german-water-initiative-for-central-asia/. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Council of the EU (2020). Climate diplomacy: Council renews the EU’s commitment to place climate action at the centre of external policy. Retrieved from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/01/20/climate-diplomacy-council-renews-the-eu-s-commitment-to-place-climate-action-at-the-centre-of-external-policy/. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
European Commission (2020). Visit of Josep Borrell Fontelles, Vice-President of the European Commission, to Berlin, Germany: opening of the "Green Central Asia" Conference with Heiko Maas, German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/shotlist/I-183648. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Green Central Asia (2020). Green Central Asia. Enhancing environment, climate and water resilience. Retrieved from https://green-central-asia.net/. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Khassenkhanova, Galiya (2019). EU launches three new programmes in Central Asia. Retrieved from https://astanatimes.com/2019/12/eu-launches-three-new-programmes-in-central-asia/. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
MFA of Germany (2020). Joint Declaration of Intent of the high-level Green Central Asia conference in Berlin on 28 January 2020. Retrieved from https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/blob/2297216/1c38d902b682fabeb30dec96e412d42d/jdoi-green-central-asia-data.pdf. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Waterca.org. The Berlin Process. Retrieved from http://waterca.org/en/the-berlin-process/. Accessed on 07.02.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dr. Albina Muratbekova is a research fellow at the Eurasian Research Institute of Akhmet Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Albina holds a PhD degree in Oriental Studies from Al Farabi Kazakh National University. During her studies, Albina received fellowships from institutions in China, India, the USA, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland. Her primary research interests cover Central, East, and South Asian affairs; intraregional and interregional cooperation of Central Asian states; China-India relations; and Central Asian politics.