Friday, May 17, 2024
 
 

A Green 5+1, regional water issues in Central Asia and previewing next year’s Astana International Forum

In the age of global conferences, the Astana International Forum has the potential to put Kazakhstan on the map
Astana Congress Center, primary venue for the Astana international Forum

- Advertisement -

Kazakhstan’s Astana International Forum (AIF) has been postponed to 2025, as Astana is diverting financial resources to assist the relief efforts after massive flooding hit several regions. While this was the correct decision, when preparations eventually commence for AIF 2025, Astana should take a leading role in environmental issues by organizing a Green 5+1 summit focusing on regional water challenges.

Summits that bring together global leaders to discuss topical global affairs are a dime a dozen these days. For example, the Munich Security Conference is an annual gathering to discuss international security affairs. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum at Davos is a yearly gathering for global and business leaders. And the list of conferences keeps growing.

While Davos and Munich are probably the most famous conferences of their kind, other countries also organize their events, like Russia’s Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum; the Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies; while Azerbaijan organizes the Global Baku Forum.

Conferences have obviously become a profitable growth industry; new regional and global gatherings are springing up almost as fast as keynote VIPs confirm their participation. Since 2021, Turkiye has organized the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. The 2024 meeting, held in early March, included a speech by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and appearances by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov; General Odongo Jeje, Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; Bujar Osmani, North Macedonia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, among others.

As for the AIF, this is not a new initiative, but the focus has evolved. Established in 2008, the Forum was previously called the Astana Economic Forum and met annually from 2008 until 2019. The COVID pandemic paused the Forum, and organizers took the opportunity to re-structure it.

The first meeting of the new conference, re-branded as the Astana International Forum, happened in 2023, aimed at becoming a platform for “high-level delegates” from various governmental, business, and academic backgrounds “to engage in dialogue and seek solutions to problems such as climate change, food shortages, and energy security.” The speakers for AIF 2023 included Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, and Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov.

The Astana International Forum is a low-cost/high-reward initiative that can help Astana further boost its international image. By “cornering the market,” as the expression goes, the AIF can become the premier annual gathering across Central Asia and the Caspian regions where global policymakers can discuss topical issues and bring attention to Eurasia’s opportunities and challenges. To stand out among the always expanding plethora of other fora, the Forum should focus on environmental issues, including water issues.

Moreover, Astana can utilize the AIF to promote engagement between Central Asia and the United States under the C5+1 format. The historic presidential C5+1 at the UN General Assembly in 2023 concluded with the New York Declaration, which will be the blueprint for Washington’s relations with Central Asia in the future. The Declaration, which includes a section on environmental issues, must remain relevant and utilized.

U.S. and Central Asian states should address environmental issues

I have previously proposed that a high-level summit between Washington and its Central Asian partners should occur to discuss environment-related issues; I am dubbing this initiative the Green 5+1. During a presentation at an April conference titled “Green 5+1 for Central Asia,” organized by the Washington DC-based research center The Jamestown Foundation, I proposed that a high-level Green 5+1 could occur annually, with rotating hosts. Washington could hold the first summit, then Astana, Tashkent, and hopefully, the other Central Asian governments will be interested in hosting it. Participants from the U.S. side would include the next U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. (Then-Special Envoy John Kerry met with his Central Asian counterparts only once, virtually, in 2021. There is also a C5+1 energy and environment working group).

Moreover, the Green 5+1 could occur as a standalone gathering or as part of a larger format so that it has a temporary home. Case in point, a Green 5+1 could occur under the auspices of the AIF. A Green 5+1 at AIF 2025 would give the Forum more relevancy and allow more engagement by Central Asian businesses and the general population. In Central Asia, just like across the world, everyone deserves a voice to discuss how environmental changes (and disasters) affect them.

Should a Green 5+1 occur in Central Asia, water discussions must be a priority. Perhaps the first Green 5+1 in the region can have a “blue theme.” Unfortunately, while communication and cooperation among Central Asian governments is increasing in several fields, water cooperation between Central Asian states is declining. For example, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had a series of border clashes over access to water; meanwhile, the water levels of the Caspian Sea are decreasing, and the Aral Sea continues to resemble a group of lakes more than a unified body of water. The 2021 Central Asian drought demonstrated that the region is also at risk of climate change-exacerbated natural disasters.

Rather than working together to solve water problems, which include droughts, water consumption, and declining rainfall, some regional states are investing in domestic irrigation projects and constructing new reservoirs, like Tajikistan’s Rogun Dam, which affects the flow of water to neighboring countries. The Taliban’s Qosh Tepa canal project in Afghanistan could bring a new wave of “water wars” in the region, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has discussed.

Solving water-related problems in Central Asia

Hence, there must be more dialogue to promote trust between these countries and find mutually beneficial answers to water-related problems. Having a Green 5+1 specifically aimed at water would be an excellent framework for discussion and support for international water law. If held in Central Asia, civic society and communities affected by water issues could have a voice on a broader stage. One more participant could be the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) which has already approved Action Programs to assist the countries of the Aral Sea Basin and a Regional Environmental Protection Program for Central Asia’s Sustainable Development. In other words, IFAS is an excellent asset for promoting dialogue and action on water issues in the Aral Sea Basin and a valid participant in a Green 5+1 meeting focused on water issues. (Hopefully, Kyrgyzstan’s turbulent relationship with IFAS will be resolved).

As a final point, it is worth noting that COP 29 climate summits occur in November-December of every year – COP 29 in Azerbaijan will happen on 11-22 November, while COP 30 in Brazil will occur on 10-21 November 2025 – while AIF occurred in June 2023 and was scheduled for the same time-frame in 2024. Hence, the AIF can become a sort of halfway-point summit between COPs to maintain the momentum of high-level discussion, with U.S. participation, on environment-related strategies and challenges.

While the Munich and Davos conferences will remain the premier global fora, other countries are organizing their gatherings to discuss topical issues. With a stronger focus on climate change and water issues, the Astana International Forum can become a prominent feature of the global calendar of “can’t miss” events. The numerous environmental challenges that affect Central Asia, particularly water shortages, mean that regular high-level discussions (with the participation of government officials, businesses and civic society) are mandatory. A Green 5+1 at AIF 2025, focused on water issues, would accomplish all these objectives.

- Advertisement -

Subscribe to our newsletter

President of Second Floor Strategies, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. He covers geopolitical, defense, and trade issues in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Western Hemisphere.

Latest

Tackling new threats to critical energy infrastructure

The explosions that targeted the Nord Stream pipelines from...

Georgia’s “Foreign Representatives Law” moves forward amid protests

On May 14, Georgia’s parliament approved (84/150) a hotly...

North Macedonia: Sliding back towards the political dark side?

As most analysts predicted after the strong showing of...

Navigating the climate challenges for COP29

The impacts of climate change have become more evident...

Don't miss

Tackling new threats to critical energy infrastructure

The explosions that targeted the Nord Stream pipelines from...

Georgia’s “Foreign Representatives Law” moves forward amid protests

On May 14, Georgia’s parliament approved (84/150) a hotly...

North Macedonia: Sliding back towards the political dark side?

As most analysts predicted after the strong showing of...

Navigating the climate challenges for COP29

The impacts of climate change have become more evident...

Tackling new threats to critical energy infrastructure

The explosions that targeted the Nord Stream pipelines from Russia to Germany in September 2022 and the suspected sabotage of Baltic-connector pipeline, which supplies...

Georgia’s “Foreign Representatives Law” moves forward amid protests

On May 14, Georgia’s parliament approved (84/150) a hotly contested law on “Transparency of Foreign Interests” regulating the amount of aid local civil society...

North Macedonia: Sliding back towards the political dark side?

As most analysts predicted after the strong showing of the nationalist presidential candidate in the first-round presidential elections on April 24, VMRO-DPMNE (Internal Macedonian...

Navigating the climate challenges for COP29

The impacts of climate change have become more evident as greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from human activities cause increased heat, drought, floods etc. Changes...

Uzbekistan to mobilize investment in environmental protection, sustainable development

NE Global sat down for an interview, in the Uzbek capital, during the 3rd Tashkent International Investment Forum (TIIF) with Aziz Abdukhakimov, Uzbekistan's Minister of Ecology,...

New wave of U.S. sanctions target Russia’s foreign suppliers and industrial base

On May 1, the U.S. Department of State together with the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled a wide-ranging new list of anti-Russia sanctions covering an...

EU sharply reduces visa access for Ethiopians

 Citing the lack of Ethiopian cooperation to facilitate repatriation of citizens deported from EU member states, the EU Council announced on April 29 a...

UK and Kazakhstan deepen strategic cooperation

During a visit to Astana, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, and Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Murat Nurtleu signed a Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, opening...