Conference of Plenipotentiaries to adopt and sign the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea kicked off in Tehran on Monday with the inaugural speech of Vice-President and Head of the Department of the Environment Ms Masoumeh Ebtekar, IRNA reported.
Ministers and senior officials from five littoral states of the Caspian Sea including Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Turkmenistan are attending the two-day conference.
This ground breaking convention, the first legally binding treaty on any subject to be adopted by the five neighbors, will coordinate regional efforts to reverse an environmental crisis brought about by habitat destruction, pollution and the over-exploitation of fish and other marine life.
"This agreement will promote the conservation of the largest freshwater lake in the world," Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, under whose auspices the treaty was negotiated said recently.
"By ensuring the sustainable use of the Caspian Sea's valuable living resources, the Convention will contribute enormously to the well-being of millions of people living in this region," he said.
The Caspian Sea is under severe stress from industrial pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, agricultural run-off, sewage, and leaks from oil extraction and refining.
Other threats include uncontrolled fishing of caviar-producing sturgeon, the over-exploitation of other marine resources, and the destruction of the region's biological diversity, which includes some 400 species unique to the Caspian.
On top of this, water levels are currently rising, threatening coastal communities and ecosystems.
Once signed at the conference, the Convention need to be ratified by the participating governments - a process that can take a couple of years - so that it will enter into force and become legally binding.
The Convention will commit its member governments to preventing and reducing pollution, restoring the environment, using the Sea's resources in a sustainable and reasonable manner, and cooperating with one another and with international organizations to protect the environment.
Specific issues addressed by the Convention include pollution from land-based sources, seabed activities, vessels, dumping, invasive alien species, environmental emergencies, marine living resources, sea-level fluctuation, environmental impact assessments, monitoring, research and development, and the exchange of information.
The Convention will strengthen and support the Caspian Environment Program, which was established by the governments concerned in 1995 following an environmental assessment by UNEP, the UN Development Program, and the World Bank.
With an area of some 373,000 sq km, the Caspian Sea boasts a shoreline of 7,000 km in length. Its surface is 28 m below sea level, and its maximum depth is 980 m. The lake is fed by some 130 tributary rivers, although 75 per cent of its inflow comes from just one - the Volga River.
The Caspian Sea is also unique in that its waters hide some of the largest oil reserves in the world.
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