Geneva / Aktau (Kazakhstan), 15 August 2011 - The five countries bordering the Caspian Sea have agreed on new commitments to strengthen regional responses to oil spills and to improve the way potential sources of pollution are monitored and managed across national borders.
The Caspian Sea is a rich source of biodiversity, as well as natural resources including oil and gas
The agreements were made as high-level government representatives of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan met in Aktau, Kazakhstan, last week, for the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 3) to the Tehran Convention.
The Convention is a legally-binding agreement signed by all five Caspian states on the environmental protection of the Caspian region, to which United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides the Secretariat.
Two new Protocols are set to be added to the Tehran Convention following the meeting in Aktau.
The adoption of the Protocol Concerning Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents by the five Caspian states marks a historic milestone in their determination to protect and preserve the Caspian Sea environment against the threats posed by oil pollution.
Once ratified by the parties to the Tehran Convention, the Protocol will see the introduction of an emergency response system for dealing with oil pollution incidents.
As a significant source of oil and gas, the Caspian region has become the focus of economic interest and political attention in recent years. Despite the wealth that this oil boom has brought to the region, it also carries environmental threats for the Caspian Sea.
Over the last two decades, the Sea has become increasingly exposed to the risk of pollution from oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transport. Each year, the transportation of oil or oil products accounts for around 10,000 shipping movements in the region.
Caspian Sea (photo by NASA, 2003)
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The five countries acknowledge that the effective management and protection of the Caspian Sea's natural resources can only be achieved through joint cooperation between all states with the engagement of the private sector, particularly the oil and gas industry..
The countries have reached an agreement in principle on the text of a Protocol on environmental impact assessment in a trans-boundary context in the framework of the Convention. The Protocol will introduce common rules for countries to assess any planned activities that are likely to cause significant adverse effects on the marine environment of the Sea. It will also require countries to notify one another of such activities.
"Improving knowledge about potential environmental impacts is the very backbone of international environmental cooperation and good inter-state relationships" said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner during the Tehran Convention meeting in Aktau.
"Addressing concerns related to potential adverse environmental trans-boundary impacts is the best recipe for preventing such impacts and safeguarding peace and stability", he added.
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth and sustains the livelihoods of over 15 million coastal inhabitants. Due to its isolation from the world's oceans for thousands of years, the Caspian Sea has formed a highly valuable ecosystem with unique biodiversity and a marine area rich in natural resources.
Recognizing the pressing need to share responsibility in preserving and protecting the region's environment and natural resources, the Caspian states ratified the Tehran Convention in 2006, as the first legally-binding agreement between the five countries that border the sea.
UNEP's Regional Office for Europe provides Secretariat services to the Convention in close cooperation with the UN Development Programme / Global Environment Facility (UNDP/GEF) project "The Caspian Sea: Restoring Depleted Fisheries and Consolidation of a Permanent Regional Environmental Governance Framework", also known as CaspEco.
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