Undoubtedly, Asia is on its way to becoming the fastest-developing continent in the world. Projected new trade routes, efforts to develop a sustainable system, and the significance of green transformation in the face of rising energy, food, and security demands. All of these are issues that deeply concern Member States of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), from North Asia to the Indian Ocean and from East Asia to the Aegean Sea. However, how realistic are the ambitious carbon-neutral plans countries aim for in line with their green transformation goals? At this point, with its five dimensions, CICA offers confidence-building measures, dialogue, connectivity, synergy, and best practices for its Member States to achieve their goals.
At the Sixth CICA Summit, among the common issues highlighted by the distinguished Heads of State or Government and high-level representatives were combating climate change and the significance of CICA’s environmental dimension for future cooperation. Why is the environmental dimension so significant for the future of the CICA region?
The CICA environmental dimension has three priority areas: sustainable development, environment protection, and natural disaster management. Each priority area has its coordinator and co-coordinator.
For instance, Thailand is the coordinator for sustainable development, Mongolia is the coordinator for environment protection, where Bangladesh and China are co-coordinators, Iran is the coordinator for natural disaster management, and Bangladesh is a co-coordinator.
According to the updated CICA Catalogue of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), the Member States have specified the priorities for cooperation in environmental areas for the implementation of the CICA CBMs, such as sharing information on best practices concerning national policies on environmental protection and sustainable development, exchanging information on natural and industrial disasters in the countries, which, in their view, may affect their neighbors. In addition, seminars, workshops, conferences, and training are held within the priority areas of the CICA environmental dimension. In general, the topics coordinating and co-coordinating countries cover are green transformation, sustainable development, low-carbon developments, waste management, carbon markets, natural disasters, and circular economy.
Recent history has shown that Asia is exposed to various climatic events and natural disasters. CICA Member States were affected by sweltering weather conditions, drought floods in 2022, as well as earthquakes in early 2023. For example, Pakistan has had a challenging year because of floods. According to the World Bank, at least 7 million people were displaced and over 1,700 people died as a result of this disaster. The cost of floods in Pakistan is around 30 billion dollars.
Moreover, the World Health Organization reports that over 7.1 million Bangladeshis were displaced by climate change in 2022. China, India, Thailand, and the Middle East also had difficulties due to climate change last year. Recently, the world has experienced a devastating sequence of earthquakes in Türkiye. After the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic damage of climate crisis and natural disasters has been taken into account, and the question of how fragile countries are for the future has come to the fore.
CICA covers a broad geography, therefore observing various environmental characteristics. Member States are taking multiple actions to ensure sustainable development and environmental protection.
The major environmental problems in Asia include desertification, climate change, lack of water resources, deforestation, earthquakes, and forest fires. Indeed, there are environmentally vulnerable CICA countries. Among the most vulnerable Member States, according to University of Notre Dame’s Vulnerability index score of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN), are Afghanistan in the 168th and Bangladesh in the 154th place. Pakistan ranks 147th, Cambodia is in 133rd place, and India ranks 132nd. The index evaluates a nation’s vulnerability, sensitivity, and capacity for climate change adaptation. There are 177 nations on the scale, and those with high rankings, close to zero, have great climate change resilience. Highest-ranking CICA Member States include Israel in the 14th place, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Türkiye sharing the 28th place followed by Kazakhstan in the 33rd place, the UAE in the 40th, and Qatar in the 44th.
The negative economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought countries closer to producing new solutions. Although developed and developing countries have different agendas, governments are shifting their economic targets to efficient systems aligned with sustainable development goals. Green transformation is one of the most prominent examples of this. Countries that aim to decarbonize their economies are investing more in green technology, fields such as carbon capture, mitigation and adaptation, circular economy, and water management. Diversifying energy sources is one of the essential steps in energy security.
UN Climate Change Conferences are significant to raise awareness and act together against extreme environmental events the world has been facing in recent years. For example, Egypt, a CICA Member State, hosted COP27 in 2022. Among the results drawn here was that nations decided for the first time to set up funds to pay developing countries for “loss and damage” caused by climate-related disasters. Moreover, it was important that China and the USA, the countries with the highest carbon emissions, decided to engage in climate diplomacy at COP27. Furthermore, COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates, another CICA Member State. From this point of view, it is a fact that the environmental theme becomes increasingly relevant in Asia.
The initiative of Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to hold a High-level Conference in 2024 in Astana to identify environmental challenges among the CICA members was one of the major outcomes of the Sixth CICA Summit. Thanks to this meeting, the CICA region, and the entire world will benefit from the potential establishment of the CICA Council for Environmental Cooperation.
Indeed, it will be in the interest of the CICA Member States to hold the 2024 High-level Environmental Conference, where best practices can be shared among the CICA countries and a sustainable mutual dialogue is likely to be ensured. As a result, the CICA environmental dimension is expected to progress rapidly among other CBMs.
The 2024 High-level Environmental Conference is at the forefront of priority initiatives for the CICA Kazakh Chairmanship. Kazakhstan’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2060 sets an example for other countries in the region. As part of the preparations for the Conference, in early 2023, CICA Secretary General Ambassador Kairat Sarybay met with Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan Zulfiya Suleimenova.
The Secretary-General stated that the CICA Member States were extensively introducing green technologies, pursuing the ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality. In addition, within the scope of the preparations for the Conference on the environment, which is of utmost importance for the CICA Member States, the sides agreed to arrange a series of expert meetings of the CICA Member States to develop goals and objectives for the Conference.
There is no doubt that CICA is an evolving international organization, and the CICA environmental dimension is developing its capabilities. With the dialogue and support of CICA Member States, the interest in environmental topics is increasing gradually in line with the region’s sustainable development goals.
Dr. Ugur Turan is an expert on the environmental dimension of the CICA Secretariat. The expert had experience working in China and Türkiye as a researcher on international organizations’ projects.