As the international community observed the UN World Water Day last Friday, March 22, two Central Asian countries were part of important talks at UN Headquarters in New York concerning water-sharing. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been engaged in a dispute over the building of a reservoir-type Rogun hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan, which Uzbekistan has contended would disrupt flow to downstream countries, including itself. Uzbekistan, a country never absent from important meetings on water issues, proposed an alternative to the Rogun project involving the construction of smaller hydroelectric plants, which would bypass or avoid changes to the stream-flow regime. These talks bring attention to a broader nexus of water, climate and energy security in Central Asia that is worth watching closely by both regional leaders and the international community.
Water security in Central Asia
The uneven distribution of water resources poses serious problems in Central Asia. Although the sources of the largest rivers are formed in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the flow is significantly weakened by hydroelectric plants as they make their way to the downstream countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Accordingly, while the reservoir dam in Tajikistan collects water in summertime, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan suffer from a lack of water for irrigation purposes, particularly during dry periods – the frequency of which has been rising. The effect on the agricultural economies of downstream countries is worrisome, with water shortages potentially inhibiting future development. Although a due diligence analysis of the project, facilitated by the World Bank, was recently conducted by an expert group, the Uzbek side refrained from supporting their findings. Instead, the Uzbek government points to a potential bias as the process was outsourced by the Tajik government to firms of their choice, without the input of all of interested parties.
The climate change aggravator
Aside from the unequal distribution of water resources, the destabilizing effects of climate change may add an additional layer of insecurity in the region. Two recent studies of the heat wave in 2010, which significantly impacted agricultural production in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have concluded that the event had a 70-80% likelihood of being attributed to a “long-term climatic warming trend.” A 2009 report by the Eurasian Development Bank found that the main contributor to climate change in Central Asia has been a significant increase in ground air temperature, with the plains experiencing the highest rates of average annual temperature increases.
For the complete article, please see The Center For Climate & Security.
The mission of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) is to “address the world’s most pressing security concerns”. These days, that means climate security: climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier, and anyone discussing food security, political instability, migration, or competition over resources should be aware of the climate change pressures that are so often at the root of security problems.
The European Green Deal has made the environment and climate change the focus of EU action. Indeed, climate change impacts are already increasing the pressure on states and societies; however, it is not yet clear how the EU can engage on climate security and environmental peacemaking. In this light, and in the run-up to the German EU Council Presidency, adelphi and its partners are organising a roundtable series on “Climate, environment, peace: Priorities for EU external action in the decade ahead”.
In January 2020, the German Federal Foreign Office launched Green Central Asia, a regional initiative on climate and security in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The aim of the initiative is to support a dialogue in the region on climate change and associated risks in order to foster regional integration between the six countries involved.
Climate change will shift key coordinates of foreign policy in the coming years and decades. Even now, climate policy is more than just environment policy; it has long since arrived at the centre of foreign policy. The German Foreign Office recently released a report on climate diplomacy recognizing the biggest challenges to security posed by climate change and highlighting fields of action for strengthening international climate diplomacy.