Intervention at Online Seminar “EU-Kyrgyz Republic cooperation – How to advance sustainable development and environmental protection of mountain regions?” organised by the Hanns Seidel Stiftung

Dear Excellences, distinguished colleagues,

It’s a pleasure to be with you today for this seminar and I would like to thank the organizers, the Mission of Kyrgyzstan together with the Hanns Seidel Stiftung.

Mountainous areas cover almost a third of the planet’s land surface and are home to some 1.1 billion people.

Kyrgyzstan is understandably sensitive to the topic as mountains comprise 94 % of its territory. But also over 30 % of the EU is mountainous, hosting almost 17 % of its population.

Mountains are important!

  • They help regulate climate and hydrological cycles and support livelihoods of local communities.
  • The glaciers found in our mountains are an important source of water.
  • And mountains host many rare species existing nowhere else.

At the same time, mountains are more vulnerable to climate change and adaptation capacity is insufficient. And the populations in mountainous areas face unique challenges linked to the remoteness and specificity, which also has effects on the economic activities possible.

Mountainous areas furthermore often represent cross-border regions, highlighting the need for countries to work together in their policy approaches.

I commend Kyrgyzstan for drawing attention through the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development in 2022. It is an opportunity to place a stronger focus on the sustainability and resilience of the mountain ecosystems and communities.

As you know Central Asia as a region is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and the following speakers can provide many examples.

In this respect, I am glad to see that addressing the consequences of climate change is gaining strategic priority for the leaders in the region and is a focus topic for regional cooperation.

I think initiatives on the international stage such as the one we are discussing are important to increase the focus of the international community and of our societies on actions that we all can take.

It is clear that in order to tackle the consequences of climate change systemic action is required, individual actions are commendable, but no longer sufficient.

Looking at today’s topic: where can the EU and Kyrgyzstan cooperate?

Let us start with the big picture internationally:

  • First, COP27 was disappointing for the EU, so more commitment to decrease greenhouse emissions is needed from us all.
  • Second, looking at the upcoming COP15:     Biodiversity loss and climate change are interdependent planetary emergencies. Urgent action on biodiversity is essential to deliver on the Paris Agreement and keep the 1.5 degrees objective within reach.

The EU and Member states are taking urgent action and calling for action by all to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

This includes the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People on the international level.

The EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 furthermore includes

  • the proposal for the EU’s first ever nature restoration law
  • and looks to establish measures for transformative change,
  • as well as a larger EU-wide network of protected areas, many in mountains.

In Central Asia, the EU has just last week launched the Team Europe Initiative on Water – Energy – Climate Change, where EU, Members states and European Financial Institutions work together to deliver on what we call the Green Deal and the Global Gateway. It aims to support Central Asia on the way to climate neutrality and environmental sustainability, including

  • the transition towards a green economy,
  • reduction of exposure to climate hazards,
  • food security,
  • and the sustainable development in the region.

Mountainous areas being particularly prone to natural disasters, we should also continue to work on Disaster Risk Reduction.

With the help of continued EU support, the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) was established in Almaty and has become a source of expertise, information and capacity building, as well as the secretariat for regional coordination. It is important to make use of this resource.

Last but not least research and education.

A recent overview of academic engagement on climate change in Central Asia has revealed that only 33 articles or 0,24 per cent of all Central Asia related articles touched on climate change over the past 30 years.

This number is probably increasing now, but research is a crucial basis for any efficient and meaningful action.

Research and education have been fruitful areas of cooperation, for example, with the University of Central Asia.

I recently visited one of their campuses and I was impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of researchers.

It would be important to continue and expand this cooperation. Erasmus+ projects can be one tool to advance exchanges between Central Asian and European universities.

These are just a few thoughts to kick start the conversation and I look forward to hearing from you about the progress made so far during this special year, your ideas about the Action Plan and your ideas about the EU – Kyrgyzstan cooperation in this area.

To conclude: I thank the organisers for today’s event and wish us all fruitful discussions.