Addressing climate-security challenges in the South Caucasus

Building on the OSCE's earlier work in the South Caucasus region, two new reports present the results of two extensive stakeholder consultation processes and look at cooperation opportunities between Armenia and Georgia and between Azerbaijan and Georgia.

04/10/2021

The call for international cooperation implied by the saying “climate change knows no borders” takes on a particular relevance in regions with climate-sensitive environments such as forests, pasture and mountain ranges that cross national boundaries. Just as climate action needs to embrace a spirit of cooperation, so too do efforts to address the peace and security implications of climate change.

adelphi and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been working in partnership with a wide group of stakeholders in the South Caucasus to look at the region’s shared climate-security risks and find joint solutions. Building on the OSCE’s earlier work, two new reports present the results of two extensive stakeholder consultation processes and look at cooperation opportunities between Armenia and Georgia as well as between Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The stakeholder consultations were part of the joint OSCE-adelphi project “Strengthening responses to security risks from climate change in South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia”, which was initiated in 2020. A similar consultation process for South-Eastern Europe was concluded earlier this year.

Climate change impacts can have implications for security

Nowhere on the planet is untouched by climate change. The latest IPCC findings estimate that many parts of the OSCE region, including its neighbouring areas, will see an increase in droughts and fire weather conditions. Meanwhile, high altitude areas will see more mountain permafrost degradation in the coming years, along with an increase in extreme precipitation events.

These projections imply a number of security risks. In elevated areas, permafrost degradation and more frequent and intense precipitation could increase the vulnerability of mountain slopes and trigger more landslides, threatening the very lives of those residing in these areas. Droughts could spell disaster for agricultural livelihoods as well as hydrological and ecological systems. And the growing threats of wildfires could lead to more devastating social, economic and environmental damages.

The South Caucasus shares climate-security hotspots and topics

Disaster risk reduction (DRR), specifically with regards to forest fires and wildfires, are among the top priorities for cooperation between Armenia and Georgia. Moreover, the bilateral consultation process reconfirmed Northern Armenia and Southern Georgia collectively as a shared climate change and security hotspot. Home to the transboundary Khrami-Debed River Basin, this hotspot could, in addition to DRR, also benefit from cooperation surrounding sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture, given the importance of the sector to the hotspot’s rural economies.

In Azerbaijan and Georgia, stakeholders prioritised DRR with a specific emphasis on forest fires and wildfires as a topic for cooperation, with North-west Azerbaijan and North-east Georgia as a shared hotspot. As agriculture and animal husbandry play a dominant role in the hotspot’s economy, and with relatively dense populations on both sides of the border, sustainable agriculture and land management also emerged as important topics for cooperation. Furthermore, the hotspot hosts the transboundary Alazani/Ganykh River Basin, which stakeholders of the consultation process identified as having cooperation potential.

Looking ahead: collective action to address climate-security risks is gaining momentum

While the latest climate projections do not bode well for the world, the momentum for cooperatively addressing climate-security risks is gaining ground in the political arenas. This is reflected in the ongoing Berlin Climate and Security Conference, now in its third year, which brings in leading figures from governmental and non-governmental sectors in one place to share insights and discuss ways forward in building up inclusive and joint approaches to address climate-security risks.

OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid will take part in a high-level virtual discussion on 7 October 2021, looking at what key regional and national institutions are already doing to advance a comprehensive approach to security in the face of a changing climate. The session will also discuss what lessons can be drawn from across regions and institutions, and what next steps could look like.

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The OSCE and adelphi will build on this momentum in the second phase of the project in the South Caucasus. This will see the laying out of more concrete actions, which will include, among other activities, the preparation of pre-feasibility studies for bilateral cooperation measures that address climate-security challenges faced by Armenia and Georgia as well as by Azerbaijan and Georgia.