Environmental security: the existing Caspian cooperation framework

For a long time, environmental cooperation between the five Caspian riparian countries suffered drawbacks comparable to other regions in the world facing common-pool resource problems.

However, despite all the obstacles, a periodic easing of tensions among Caspian riparian countries has contributed to the gradual emergence of a more cooperative environment. Regional negotiations to establish a cooperative programme had started already by 1992, and by 1995 the five riparian countries had agreed upon the creation of the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP), which was eventually launched only in 1998 due to disagreements over its implementation.[1] The members of the CEP Steering Committee are the five littoral states and four international donor organizations: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank (WB), The European Un- ion/Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States

(EU/Tacis), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).[2] The CEP’s main output has most likely been the Caspian Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, first produced in 2002 and revisited in 2007.[3] As the title suggests, this long and comprehensive report aims at reaching a scientific and objective consensus over the state of Caspian resources, in order to paint a precise picture of the environmental state of the Caspian Sea so that riparian countries may follow up by taking appropriate action.

The CEP was built with resilience and scalability in mind, as Ostrom recommended in 1990 (see supra, paragraph 3): apart from the central structure of the Steering Committee and Secretariat to coordinate its day-to-day activity, the CEP is layered in sub-regional and national components which include:

  • - the Regional Advisory Groups, whose purpose is to coordinate the Secretariat’s activities in “priority regional environmental concern areas”;
  • - a National Coordination Structure in each of the 5 riparian countries. The Structure is responsible for implementing: (a) National Caspian Action Plans (NCAPs) that each of the riparian countries was required to adopt as autonomous domestic legislation; (b) the Strategic Action Programme (SAP), which is instead the result of negotiations between the five countries in order to define and address common priorities for the whole region;
  • - national stakeholders, which the CEP defines as including NGOs, local authorities, the private sector, universities, industries, and local com- munities.[4]

The SAP has established some important environmental principles that littoral states should respect. They are:

  • - the “polluter pays” principle, which maintains that the cost of preventing and eliminating pollution shall be paid by the polluter;
  • - the “preventative action” principle, according to which timely actions should be taken to alert the relevant authorities of likely environmental impacts before they occur;
  • - the “public participation and transparency” principle, which aims to involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process, including communities, individuals and concerned organizations.[5]

The main diplomatic success since the CEP’s inception was achieved at the 2003 Tehran Conference of Caspian Littoral States. Unlike the 2002 Caspian Summit of Heads of the Caspian Littoral States, which failed to materialize into an agreement on the status of the Caspian, the Tehran Conference coalesced into just such an agreement. Signed on 4 November 2003, the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (also known as the Tehran Convention) was a milestone in riparian states’ environmental cooperation.[6]

With the Tehran Convention, the riparian states agreed in principle on common action for the control of activities impacting the environment, officially recognizing the three SAP principles mentioned above.[7] Despite being only a Framework Convention, and thus expressing not much more than the will to cooperate over environmental issues, since it came into force on 12 August 2006 the Tehran Convention has been a successful achievement as such. Moreover, it has been followed by practical action in the subsequent years, particularly in the form of the signing of binding Protocols to the Convention.

On 23-25 May 2007, Baku hosted the first Ministerial meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Tehran Convention (COP I). During COP I the five littoral states declared that 12 August was to be regional Caspian Day, marking the importance of the Tehran Convention as the overarching legal instrument for environmental protection in the region. 2011 saw the signing of the Aktau Protocol concerning Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents, while in 2012, on the margins of COP IV (held in Moscow) the five riparian countries signed the Protocol for the Protection of the Caspian Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities.

Obviously, the short history of the Tehran Convention is not without its low points. Since the Convention came into force, the parties have been unable to agree on who should host the permanent seat of the Secretariat, so that an Interim Secretariat is still headquartered at UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe in Geneva, Switzerland. At the same time, the adoption of two other binding Protocols to the Convention was delayed due to disagreement between the parties.[8]

However, the conflict over the host country for the permanent seat of the Secretariat can also be interpreted as a sign of the importance the littoral states attribute to the main organ of the Convention. And while the prestige of hosting the Secretariat entailed a 7-year dispute, today the number of eligible contestants seems to have shrunk to just two - Iran and Azerbaijan. In the meanwhile the five Caspian states seem to have reached an agreement in principle over the two outstanding binding protocols, and at least one of them could be signed as early as at COP V, to be held by late 2014 in Turkmenistan. Aside from the CEP and the Tehran Convention, other projects focus or have focused in the recent past on the environment and security of the Caspian Sea region. The main ones are:

  • - ENVSEC. The Environmental Security Initiative is a partnership of six international organizations: UNEP, UNDP, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Regional Environment Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the moment, ENVSEC’s portfolio comprises 54 projects, and the agency also acts in Eastern and SouthEastern Europe.
  • - CASPECO. This was a regional project funded by GEF, implemented by the UNDP and executed by the United Nations Office for Projects Services (UNOPS). It was active in 2009-2012 and its target was to restore depleted fisheries and consolidate a permanent regional environmental governance framework.
  • - CEIC. The Caspian Environmental Information Centre has been in place since 2012, and is based on a network of collaborating institutions in Caspian littoral states, in particular Government sections, monitoring stations, the private sector and NGOs.

  • [1] A Global Environment Facility (GEF) mission to the Caspian region took place in May/June 1995, after whichthe GEF agreed to fund the preparatory phases of what would eventually become known as CEP.
  • [2] CEP, http://www.caspianenvironment.org/newsite/Caspian-Background.htm.
  • [3] GEF/CEP, Caspian Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis Revisit, 2007.
  • [4] CEP, An Introduction to the Caspian Sea and the Caspian Environment Programme, online booklet, 2005,pp. 20-23.
  • [5] CEP, Strategic Action Programme for the Caspian Sea, 2006 updated version, pp. 6-7.
  • [6] Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (Tehran Convention), 4 November 2003.
  • [7] Tehran Convention, art. 5.
  • [8] The two outstanding protocols are the Protocol on the Conservation of Biological Diversity and the Protocolon Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.
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