Between January 31 and February 2, the REC hosted a training organised in the framework of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC). The event brought together project partners from the REC, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Participants represented several countries included within three project regions: Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. In the interview below, Halil Yurdakul Yigitguden, co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, provides some background information about the ENVSEC Initiative and explains its importance in strengthening coordinated efforts to adapt to environmental threats related to climate change. (A detailed article on the event, featuring participant feedback, will be published soon.)
REC: Please describe your role in ENVSEC, and briefly explain the purpose of the initiative.
Yigitguden: I am working as Co-ordinator of Economic and Environmental Activities at the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna. The OSCE takes a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses three dimensions: politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects. Economic and environmental developments may have implications for security, and this is why we are engaging very strongly in environmental issues.
ENVSEC was founded in 2003 by the OSCE, UNDP, and UNEP, and later joined by the REC and UNECE. It aims to address environment and security challenges in South Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia through cooperation. The reason why ENVSEC is so important is that it brings together the expertise of five international organisations. We as the OSCE bring in our security expertise in addressing environmental challenges. UNDP offers its development expertise. UNEP provides its environmental expertise and know-how, whereas the UNECE—as the holder of major multilateral environmental agreements like the Water Convention, Espoo Convention, Aarhus Convention, Industrial Accidents Convention—provides its expertise on the international legal framework. The REC is a strong environmental organisation in Central and Eastern Europe, and brings along its network and wide knowledge of the region. All of these five organisations have their strengths, so that instead of duplicating each other’s work—as happens very often in the international arena—the are able to complement each other. They join their forces when they realise projects, which enhances not only the impact of projects but also ensures cost efficiency.
In addition, organisations like the OSCE and UNDP, as well as the REC, have strong field presence, which enables the ENVSEC Initiative to have access to first-hand environmental information on the ground, to address emerging risks and challenges in a timely manner, and to develop and implement multi-stakeholder projects with the active engagement of national authorities, NGOs, academia and other stakeholders across borders. And this gives us quite a lot of strength to realise projects in the region.
What is some of the most recent activity that the ENVSEC Initiative has been involved in?
During the last three years, the ENVSEC Initiative has brought together multiple stakeholders from several countries to discuss impacts of climate change on security and to identify priority geographical locations—within and across borders—where these impacts are expected to be most significant. Following a number of national and regional consultations engaging all relevant stakeholders, regional climate change and security assessment reports have now been prepared that also reflect geographical hotspots, as well as some recommendations. The project also envisages the development of a pilot transboundary adaptation strategy for a shared ecosystem. In this respect, the project has supported the development and implementation of a strategic framework for adaptation to climate change in the Dniester River Basin shared by Moldova and Ukraine. This is one of the few transboundary climate change adaptation strategies in the world, and we hope that in the future we can get funding for the second phase of the project to develop such strategies in other regions of the ENVSEC region as well.
Explain how ENVSEC operates at the regional level.
Aside from the project I just mentioned, ENVSEC has been very influential since its founding in helping to realise about 160 projects in this region. ENVSEC National Focal Points representing the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Environment in each of the countries form the backbone of the ENVSEC Initiative. We also have regional desk office functions to coordinate the ENVSEC work programme in respective regions. The REC has the ENVSEC regional desk office function for South Eastern Europe. The OSCE has a regional desk function in the South Caucasus. The Eastern Europe regional desk office function is performed by UNEP, and UNDP serves in the same capacity in Central Asia. In each of these four regions ENVSEC convenes annual meetings that bring together ENVSEC National Focal Points from the respective countries. Other relevant line ministries, NGOs and Aarhus Centres also take an active part in these ENVSEC regional coordination meetings, the aims of which are to discuss progress in the implementation of ongoing projects and to identify future priorities for the ENVSEC regional work programmes.
You mentioned in your opening remarks the importance of cooperation. Surely this is vital in the context of transboundary issues.
Cooperation is the key to addressing environmental challenges, and particularly those challenges related to climate change, such as severe weather conditions and more frequent natural disasters—which don’t stop at national boundaries. If, for example, a wildfire emerges, or if flooding takes place, there is a need to cooperate across boundaries. In this regard, this training, by bringing together several stakeholders from 11 project countries [i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan], contributes significantly to addressing such challenges in a cooperative manner in the future. This is a big asset. They now have the same knowledge, the same tools in mind, and they can easily cooperate with each other.