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Opening speech by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell at the Green Central Asia conference


German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin | HR/VP Josep Borrell describes the importance of Central Asia to the EU and in particular how EU support can help the region better address the consequences of climate change.

Berlin, 28 January 2020

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies, dear friends, dear Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Heiko Maas], dear Ministers,

Many thanks to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to all of you, for hosting this important conference and for inviting me to participate in it. I am happy to see so many friends who made the trip from Central Asia and Afghanistan to be here with us today. 

It is a pleasure to be in Berlin, given the leading role Germany played as midwife to the first EU Strategy on Central Asia in 2007. Last year, the EU adopted a new Strategy on Central Asia, emphasising the positive dynamics in the region and the new opportunities for cooperation. 

The EU sees the region as a partner looking both to East and West, not as a grand chessboard for a new Great Game like the ones that were played in history. Central Asians want to diversify their diplomatic options and to have a strong engagement with us, the European Union, in order to balance the regional equation. 

Both of us, the European Union and Central Asia, see how huge the potential is for more regional cooperation. This was a clear message of the second summit of Central Asian leaders last November in Tashkent. 

Now here comes climate change. Climate change stands as one of the areas most in need of urgent collective action. That is true in Central Asia and elsewhere. 

Today, the whole world sees the effects of climate change. Forests burning from America to Australia. Deserts advancing across Africa and Asia. Rising sea levels threaten European cities, as well as the Pacific islands. There is a climate crisis and we need to address it. In spite of the fact that some world leaders insist on denying it. It is a real threat for humankind.

The European Union is committed to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This is our "European Green Deal" which I like to call “European Green Will”, because it is a matter of will. This is our new growth strategy: growth that gives back more than it takes away from nature. 

We are very much aware that this will require a total transformation of society, from transport to taxation, from farming to industry and infrastructure. 

But at the same time, we are also very much aware that whatever our efforts in Europe, climate change will not be solved by the European Union’s efforts alone. We represent today only 9% of the global emissions of CO2, and this share is falling. While the non-EU G20 countries represent 70% of emissions, and their numbers are rising. 

So we need collective action.

Even if, by some miracle, we Europeans were able to cancel all our emissions tomorrow morning, we account for 9%. There would still be 91% left and climate change would still be a big problem to be solved. This is why diplomatic climate action at the worldwide level is the key priority for the overall foreign policy of the European Union Member States and the European Union itself. 

Last week, we adopted Conclusions on EU Climate Diplomacy. And we are going to give a big priority to working with those that account for the greatest emissions, and with the most vulnerable countries, and many of them are in Central Asia.       

You know better than I that Central Asia is being hit hard by climate change. The past 30 years have seen severe increases in temperatures. Droughts and water scarcity have already disrupted your entire ecosystem. Shrinking of the glaciers has reduced water flows, which has the potential to intensify competition over water resources. Many of the wars in the history of mankind have been about water. Land degradation alone has an estimated cost of about $6 billion a year, according to the United Nations Development Programme.  

The shrinking of the Aral Sea is a spectacular illustration of this phenomenon. This is not ‘just’ an environmental problem ; it is a catastrophe for the people living on its former shores. In Central Asia, and elsewhere, climate change is a risk multiplier threatening the region as a whole. 

What can we do?

First, we provide space for regional cooperative solutions. We, the European Union, we are quite good at regional cooperation in order to address cross-border challenges. So I think we can help to build a regional cross-border approach, in a way that other partners cannot. 

We have several regional EU initiatives. Allow me to mention a few of them, to give a sense of what we are already doing. Today’s conference will for sure discuss how we can do more together. 

One of the main regional programmes is the EU-Central Asia Platform for Environment and Water Cooperation. It is ten years old. I am pleased that in a few weeks' time, in February, a 9th Meeting of the EU-Central Asia Working Group on Environment and Climate Change will take place in Brussels, and I hope that many of you will be attending this meeting.

We also have the Central Asia Water and Energy Programme. This is a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, also supported by Switzerland and the United Kingdom and administered by the World Bank. The next phase will see the inclusion of Afghanistan as a beneficiary country. 

Today, around 90% of Afghanistan’s water systems are cross-border in nature. Those water resources must be managed in a cooperative way between Afghanistan and its neighbours. 

We expect to launch later this year a new EU project, aligned with Germany's “Green Central Asia" initiative that we are going to discuss today. We will focus on strengthening the ability of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to address the security implications of climate change in the Fergana Valley. 

We are also very active in tackling the very serious problems related to the legacy of uranium mining. Floods and landslides are more and more frequent because of climate change. If nothing is done, they will trigger the disastrous spread of toxic and radioactive waste from uranium legacy sites into the region's trans-boundary rivers. This can be an extraordinarily grave natural disaster.

This is why the EU has been engaged for almost ten years supporting a regional programme to find sustainable solutions for uranium legacy sites. We have invested – allow me to be proud of it – more than €40 million for the seven highest priority sites in your countries. 

I stop here, but I want to raise some conclusions and to deliver a clear message. Climate change is a geopolitical challenge. It affects all of us; it affects our security. Central Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.

If we take decisive action now, we can avoid predictable – and predicted – disasters coming our way. We need to step up science-based, collaborative solutions across the region. 

In these efforts, the EU is and will be a real partner for Central Asia and Afghanistan. Let us hope that we will be able to go from theoretical speeches to practical activities, using our expertise and resources to turn ideas into action, on behalf of all of us and humankind as a whole.

Thank you.


Link to the video :

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)460 75 45 53