Importance of Natural Resources

Ecology of the Caspian Sea

Boris Golubov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Geosphere Dynamics of the Academy of Sciences, senior researcher at the Institute of Oceanology I will start shortly … Our attitude towards the Tehran Framework Convention. Here it is, expressed in one word. We ask ourselves: Is it a real force, or, as it seems to us, some kind of humanistic fog? I will remind you of the main features of the convention. And I will say this: what I am about to say is a repetition of what we officially announced recently at the international economic forum “Caspian Dialogue”, held in Moscow in May of this year, and before that, sometime in April, the working group had worked to prepare proposals for the improvement of the Tehran Framework Convention. As our host has said, this convention is a legally-binding agreement between the Caspian countries. The noble goal of this convention is also obvious – it is the protection of the marine environment of the Caspian Sea from pollution, including conservation, restoration and sustainable use of water and biological resources. The convention is very important, it has a very important tool. Its main tool is the Caspian Environment Program, which operates under the auspices of UNESCO and coordinates strategic and national action plans. The implementation of these plans is reflected in the protocols of the Tehran Framework Convention, aimed at four objectives, which are listed on this slide. These are the preservation of biological diversity, protection of the Caspian Sea from pollution caused by oil and land-based sources, cooperation in the event of accidental oil spills as well as impact assessment across borders. These lofty goals, as we see, are not so easy to implement. Why? Here we see that the main socio-economic background for the implementation of this convention is the following: First, the rich hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian region have now become the center of gravity of the world economy. The third most powerful wave of expansion of the oil and gas industry has been launched here and multinational oil companies of all sizes – from small to very large – have rushed here. Secondly, we know and it is already becoming evident in our eyes – there is a threat of a progressive necrosis of the Caspian Sea, that is, the degradation of the unique biodiversity of this ecosystem. Another feature: where there is oil there are conflicts. There is a series of acute and fading socio-economic, political, ethnic, religious, etc. conflicts. The militarization of the region has intensified. As a result, the Caspian countries still, for so many years already, cannot in fact agree on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Hence the criticism of the Convention and the Caspian Environment Program is suggestive. We believe and we think that the Convention and the Caspian Environment Program largely only declare the need for protection of the Caspian Sea, but do not reach that goal. Rasim Sattarzadeh, the head of environmental and conservation policy of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan I think that this convention takes all the issues in a much broader context then has been discussed so far. I agree that the expectations of those who thought that, after the signing of the convention, they will immediately feel the improvement of the ecological situation in the Caspian Sea… I think that this should not have been expected, because as the name of the convention suggests it is a framework convention. That is, it provides a framework for interaction, a cooperation framework for the five countries in the pursuit of the desire to resolve issues on a bilateral, multilateral or national level. That is to say, it is a political will, and, as was correctly noted by my Russian colleague, it is currently the only legally-binding document. Unfortunately, it was also pointed out that the legal status of the sea has so far only been discussed. A corresponding document has not yet been fully agreed upon. So I wanted to say that this shows that all five countries expressed their desire and agree that environmental problems cannot wait until other political issues are solved, they must be addressed immediately, that is as soon as possible. The Convention is a tool, but the Caspian program is not its tool. The Caspian program is a program that is 14 years old and covers different projects on this subject, on the Caspian Sea. At the same time, the Convention is dealt with by the Secretariat of the Convention, that is, the organizational structure of the Convention is a secretariat. Besides the fact that the Convention has some well-known principles, one of them that the polluter pays, the other one about the right to information about pollution and the environmental conditions of the Caspian Sea. The third principle is adoption of measures. Regardless of whether there is enough scientific information in some situations, we took the responsibility of taking preventive measures to protect the ecology of the Caspian Sea. There are several directions in this convention. The main direction is the prevention and reduction of pollution of the Caspian Sea by land sources. Everybody knows that most of the pollution is connected with pollution from the land, primarily polluted river waters. All the population, infrastructure and industry concentrate along the rivers that collect all the discharge and waste waters, and at the end it all goes into the Caspian Sea. In addition, this convention provides for measures against pollution from ships and activity on the sea. At the same time, as has been noted, the protection of biodiversity is also a part of the convention. In addition it includes the evaluation of environmental impact, joint monitoring of the problem of the coastline management, etc. As I said, this convention provides a legal mechanism for concrete measures in the related protocols. The protocols in different directions stipulate specific measures. The most important directions of the Caspian environment were chosen. The first one to be elaborated was the protocol of measures against land pollution, then the protocol of biodiversity protection, of environmental impact and the protocol of cooperation in emergency situations of sea pollution connected with oil spills. Mels Yeleusizov, Head of the Ecological Union of Kazakhstan Few really deal with the problems of the Caspian Sea, while efforts should be intensified. Very serious things are happening in the world connected to global climate change. The level of the Caspian went higher and many old boreholes were flooded and keep discharging oil. So far we have not managed to solve this problem. It is very serious and dangerous because this micron-thick oil layer destroys everything alive from a depth of two metres. This is more dangerous than industrial waste waters. In Soviet times the Caspian shelf was a natural protected zone. Russia and Kazakhstan followed it and tried to protect the natural features. But the oil found after the collapse of the Soviet Union just hypnotized everyone. In Soviet times there was an accident in the Tengiz oil field. The borehole was on fire for 14 months and it could not be extinguished. All the world was helping us. Finally it was extinguished, but, it is said, only after a nuclear explosion moved the underground layers. The borehole was simply throwing out the drilling pipes. The pressure was 1000 atmospheres. If a human being goes into water with this pressure, he is cut like butter. It is an extreme pressure. We carried out an expert ecological assessment for the Kashagan project. It is a huge project involving an international consortium. And we became convinced that there is no protection in case of emergency or accident. The very high pressure, the high concentration of sera. In addition, there will be thousands of kilometres of pipelines. Imagine the oil moving there under this high pressure. More than 40 islands will be created. An enormous industry. While the average depth of the Caspian shelf is only 80 cm. If an accident happens there, it will be impossible to simply extinguish the fire. Waste waters cannot compare to it. One accident will be enough to kill any life. Because the Caspian shelf is the cradle for the all life in the Caspian Sea. Everything develops on the shelf. Sturgeon was the main value of the Caspian Sea. They had been there for millions of years. And now they are being destroyed. They cannot even be caught. The productivity of the sea has fallen dramatically. The native seals are also dying in masses every year. It is all because of the pollution. If previously the Volga was an important spawning river, now it is all blocked. All industrial waste waters flow to the Caspian. The only normal river was the Ural, but it is almost not flowing any more. To conclude, there are enormous problems. I am convinced that these problems cannot be solved until people, society and the state approach it seriously.

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