BAKU, Azerbaijan, February 12. The hosting of COP29 in Azerbaijan demonstrates our country's support to environmental protection and climate change prevention at all levels, said Senior Legal Manager at PwC Azerbaijan Leyla Sadikhova during an exclusive interview with Trend.
Sadikhova reminded that the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP) is a significant gathering at the governmental level aimed at formulating a unified climate strategy.
"In essence, COP is the key platform for intergovernmental negotiations aiming at carrying out the mandates of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol (KP), and the Paris Agreement (PA). The UNFCCC, which went into effect on March 21, 1994, is intended to prevent negative human-caused consequences on the Earth's climate system. Currently, 198 countries have ratified this internationally recognized pact. Furthermore, the Kyoto Protocol, an addendum to the Convention, was adopted on December 11, 1997, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and counteract global warming. It came into effect on February 16, 2005. Azerbaijan became a party to the Protocol in 2000," she said.
She further explained that the Paris Agreement, ratified in 2015, represents a continuation of the Convention.
"As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, Azerbaijan committed in 2016 to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, subject to legislative approval. As a result, the COPs are significant because they align with this commitment. It is critical to note that subsequent COPs have prioritized achieving the Paris Agreement's central objectives, specifically limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C (global peaking) and pursuing additional efforts to limit it to 1.5°C (climate neutrality). Notably, one of the key concerns about climate warming is the release of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere," she added.
Leyla Sadikhova highlighted that presently, based on measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, the atmospheric CO2 level has reached an unprecedented high in human history.
"Scientists warn that this level of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere hasn't been seen in millions of years. Without strong action by governments, the Earth's average temperature is expected to rise significantly during the twenty-first century. Here's an interesting fact: while CO2 isn't considered a dangerous gas, an excess of it in the air is detrimental to human health, causing hypoxia. Prolonged intake of air containing 1.5-3 percent CO2 can result in symptoms such as vomiting and dizziness, while levels above 6 percent might decrease cardiac function and offer a life-threatening risk," the senior manager emphasized.
Sadikhova explains that the primary objective of the COP is to guide the world towards overcoming the climate crisis.
"Nations meet annually to review progress toward their pledges under international climate change agreements and to discuss joint measures to combating global warming. COP serves as a unique global venue for participants to address one of our era's most critical existential challenges: global warming. With each passing year, negotiations inside the conference become more complex, with a wide and comprehensive agenda. Furthermore, the number of official government delegations, specialists of various backgrounds, representatives from corporations, civil society, and media organizations engaging in these conversations is continuously increasing," she added.
Regarding why Azerbaijan was chosen as the host country for COP29, Sadikhova remarked that the selection of a host country for significant international events inherently carries symbolic significance, conveying important messages to both participants and the broader community.
She emphasized that when the outcome of strategic and global matters hangs in the balance, the organizers bear a unique responsibility for the event's outcomes.
"I consider the announcement of Baku hosting the upcoming COP29 climate conference in November 2024 as unsurprising. Primarily, Azerbaijan has consistently upheld its international commitments toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing climate change. As a partner of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Azerbaijan actively contributes to global efforts against climate change. Recent developments, such as SOCAR signing the Decarbonization Charter and voluntary commitments at COP28 to reduce methane emissions in 2023, underscore Azerbaijan's dedication to this cause," she said.
"Furthermore, Azerbaijan's proactive role in chairing the Non-Aligned Movement and President Ilham Aliyev's contributions and proposals to global integration processes have garnered respect and trust from numerous countries. Notably, during the first COP29 meeting on December 15, 2023, President Ilham Aliyev emphasized Azerbaijan's growing international stature, attributing it to the nation's independent policies, principled stance, commitment to international law, and the restoration of sovereignty across its entire territory," she added.
Sadikhova views the unanimous decision to host the 29th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Azerbaijan as a significant demonstration of the international community's profound respect and trust in Azerbaijan. This decision also signifies approval of Azerbaijan's efforts in environmental protection and combating climate change at national, regional, and global levels.
"I am confident that Azerbaijan will host COP29 at an exceptional standard, marking yet another significant success for our country and making a valuable global contribution to mitigating climate change," the PwC Azerbaijan manager said.
Addressing the SDGs, Sadikhova underscored Azerbaijan's initial actions toward achieving these goals, notably the formation of the National Coordinating Council for Sustainable Development (NCCSD) in 2016. Additionally, to fulfill the obligations outlined in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Azerbaijan took further steps with the adoption and endorsement of "Azerbaijan 2030: National Priorities for Socio-Economic Development" by President Ilham Aliyev in 2021.
"The National Priorities outline five key goals for Azerbaijan's socio-economic development over the next decade. These encompass fostering a sustainable and competitive economy, nurturing a dynamic and inclusive society grounded in social justice, cultivating a competitive human capital base with room for innovative advancements, reclaiming territories liberated from occupation, and fostering environmental cleanliness and 'green growth.' All of these directions are crucial for Azerbaijan's sustainable development. Notably, one of these priorities emphasizes achieving "a country with a clean environment and green growth." Pursuant to this priority, efforts are underway to enhance environmental quality, restore and expand green spaces, and promote the efficient utilization of water resources and sustainable energy sources. Azerbaijan has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, with a further reduction target of 40 percent by 2050," the senior manager said.
Sadikhova noted that Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur, recently liberated from Armenian occupation, along with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, have been designated as green energy zones.
"Environmental protection takes precedence in the comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts within the liberated territories. Innovative concepts such as'smart city' and'smart village' are being implemented alongside ecosystem restoration initiatives. Azerbaijan's energy policy prioritizes the generation and export of green energy to global markets. The country aims to elevate the share of renewable energy sources in its installed power generation capacity to 30 percent by 2030. In alignment with these priorities, Azerbaijan has enacted various legislative measures in the field of green energy. Notably, the "Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources for the Purpose of Generating Energy" was passed in 2021. This law establishes the legal, economic, and organizational frameworks for incorporating renewable energy sources into overall electricity production while also regulating support mechanisms to incentivize electricity production from renewable sources," Sadikhova added.
She added that on July 1, 2022, the new legislation concerning the efficient utilization of energy resources and energy efficiency took effect.
"The primary objective of the law is to govern activities related to the production, storage, transmission, distribution, sale, and consumption of energy. Among its provisions, the legislation introduces several new regulations, including guidelines for selecting electricity producers from renewable energy sources, criteria for implementing active support mechanisms for consumers, and setting capacity limits for generated electricity. Additionally, the law outlines regulations for establishing the "Information System for Renewable Energy Sources," issuing certificates for electricity sourced from renewable energy, conducting state oversight of renewable energy utilization, and ensuring effective use of renewable energy sources," she said.
The senior manager further highlighted that, in line with Azerbaijan's international commitments and the enactment of the aforementioned legislation, the Regulation on the "Implementation of State Control in the Field of Efficient Use of Energy Resources and Energy Efficiency" was ratified in July 2023. Additionally, in August 2023, the Order governing the selection process of electricity producers within renewable energy source territories was issued.
"A notable recent development is the presidential decree issued on December 25, 2023, declaring 2024 as the 'Green World Solidarity Year' in Azerbaijan. This decree aims to bolster international cooperation in combating climate change on a global scale. It underscores Azerbaijan's commitment as a dependable and accountable member of the international community to addressing the challenges posed by climate change. The Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan has been tasked with drafting and presenting proposals for a plan of action regarding the designation of 2024 as the 'Green World Solidarity Year' within one month," the senior manager emphasized.
Discussing what Azerbaijan should anticipate at COP29, Sadikhova pointed out that these summits typically encounter unforeseen contradictions and even crises during the event. This often arises due to the conflicting interests of states that produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and those that oppose such emissions, leading to a lack of consensus. Such developments typically disrupt proceedings, and a similar scenario is anticipated at COP29.
"For instance, the recent Dubai summit, which concluded COP28, despite significant tensions among participants, managed to reach agreements to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C. Moreover, a resolution was reached regarding reparations, with a new international fund established to compensate developing countries for climate damage with an estimated annual budget of $100 billion. However, several unresolved issues, such as global carbon unit trading, await resolution at COP29. Following the announcement that Azerbaijan would host COP29, President Ilham Aliyev promptly convened a government meeting on December 15, 2023, to initiate preparations. During this meeting, he underscored Azerbaijan's active stance on climate change, highlighting the country's priority in transitioning to green energy and its role as a supplier of green energy to global markets. It is anticipated that during the Baku summit, participants will continue to address the agenda established in the UAE, supplemented by strategic areas outlined by President Ilham Aliyev, particularly focusing on the transition to a green economy and Azerbaijan's role as a green energy provider," she said.
Addressing Azerbaijan's potential contributions to green energy development, Sadikhova emphasized that today’s green agenda encompasses a range of initiatives aimed at global environmental restoration. These include reforestation efforts, air pollution mitigation, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and transitioning to alternative energy sources.
"Certainly, Azerbaijan's history is deeply intertwined with oil production, dating back to ancient times. The country boasts notable milestones in this field, such as the establishment of the first commercial oil well, the world's inaugural offshore oil field, and the maiden oil tanker. However, alongside its traditional energy sector, Azerbaijan is now showcasing its commitment to a green agenda and its potential on the global stage. Azerbaijan possesses significant green energy potential, driven by factors such as ample opportunities for electricity generation from renewable natural sources. Solar energy can be harnessed across the country, while regions like Khizi, Khazar, Absheron, Gobustan, and the capital Baku, particularly its eastern part, hold promise for wind power utilization. Additionally, the potential for offshore wind farms in the Caspian Sea, akin to those in the North Sea developed by Germany and Denmark, is noteworthy. The country is actively advancing wind and solar power projects, emissions reduction initiatives, reforestation efforts, and the promotion of electric and hydrogen transportation. Transitioning from traditional to environmentally friendly energy sources is a gradual process requiring substantial investment, time, and concerted effort. It's important to acknowledge that oil, gas, and coal will continue to play a role in the energy landscape, albeit alongside the growing adoption of green alternatives. Azerbaijan has thus adopted a strategy for a gradual and realistic transition from traditional to new energy sources, ensuring a balanced and sustainable approach," she said.
The senior manager emphasized that Karabakh, undeniably one of Azerbaijan's most picturesque regions, stands as the primary focus of the country's green agenda today.
"The foremost priority lies in restoring the ecosystem of Karabakh following rampant deforestation and demining the region of landmines. The comprehensive restoration effort encompasses rebuilding everything from residences to infrastructure, essentially creating infrastructure anew and utilizing cutting-edge smart technologies. These formerly occupied but now liberated areas have been designated as clean energy zones, offering immense potential for generating electricity from renewable natural sources. The economic regions of Karabakh and East Zangezur, including Kalbajar, Lachin, Gubadli, Zangilan, Jabrayil, and Fuzuli, boast significant solar energy resources, while Kalbajar and Lachin are renowned for their robust wind patterns. Additionally, the energy-generating potential of mountain rivers such as Tartarchay, Bazarchay, and Hakari further augments electricity production without environmental harm," Sadikhova said.
The senior manager highlighted that these initiatives enable Azerbaijan to ambitiously target a 30 percent share of energy derived from renewable sources by 2030, thereby fostering favorable conditions for systematic economic advancement within the state. Moreover, there are plans to transform these regions into "net zero emissions" zones by 2050.
"Certainly, the primary market for green energy from Azerbaijan is Europe, and the state has a concrete plan in place for the supply of energy from renewable sources. On December 17, 2022, Azerbaijan, along with Georgia, Romania, and Hungary, entered into a strategic partnership agreement aiming to construct an energy bridge from the Caucasus region to Europe. Under this agreement, Black Sea Energy is set to construct a submarine electric cable with a capacity of 1,000 MW and a length of 1,195 kilometers. The cable will facilitate the transmission of green electricity generated in Azerbaijan, via Georgia and the Black Sea, to Romania, for further distribution to Hungary and the broader European market. This initiative is poised to enable the supply of up to four GW of green energy. In summary, Azerbaijan's domestic plans encompass the development of wind and solar energy, the transformation of Karabakh into a hub of green and clean energy, and, at the international level, the export of clean electricity to Europe through new energy bridges," she stressed.
Sadikhova noted that Azerbaijan surely plays an important role in the new energy security architecture of Europe.
"Azerbaijan's pivotal role in safeguarding the energy security of other nations, particularly amid current geopolitical challenges such as the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, is noteworthy. President Ilham Aliyev has consistently underscored Azerbaijan's leadership in ensuring the energy security of neighboring states in his addresses. Reflecting on the President's remarks during the inauguration of the 240 MW Khizi-Absheron wind power plant in early 2023. President Ilham Aliyev said that our country's energy security is fully assured, and the annual increase in natural gas and electricity exports positively contributes to the energy security of other nations. However, he also emphasized the imperative of diversifying energy production given Azerbaijan's rapid socio-economic growth, highlighting the significant expansion of non-oil industries by approximately 20 percent in the preceding year. Adhering to these principles, Azerbaijan has emerged as a key energy player and a valuable partner in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals globally. By reshaping the energy landscape of Eurasia, Azerbaijan is fostering new avenues for collaboration and progress in the energy sector. Hence, the entrusted organization of COP29 underscores Azerbaijan's commitment to fostering green energy solutions for the benefit of future generations, preserving their rights to inherit a sustainable planet," she said.
Sadikhova emphasized that COP29 won't merely serve as a venue for foreign delegates and guests but will also entail significant responsibility for Azerbaijan, both as the organizer and chair of the conference's agenda.
"Upon knowing that Azerbaijan will host COP29 in November 2024, my initial emotions were pride and joy for my homeland. However, this news also instilled a sense of great responsibility in me as a citizen. I believe that COP29 will be more than just a gathering for foreign representatives and guests; it will signify a significant responsibility for Azerbaijan, serving as both the organizer and chair of the conference agenda," she said.
"In this regard, Azerbaijan's primary objective will be to adeptly and efficiently coordinate the agenda and facilitate the resolution of the conference's main issues. Additionally, ensuring security and proper allocation of conference infrastructure will be imperative, including identifying suitable venues for hosting guests and conducting bilateral and multilateral meetings within the conference framework. It's noteworthy that although the participants of COP are countries, the primary audience for achieving the conference's goals is the business community within these nations. Hence, COP29 also serves as an essential task for Azerbaijan's business representatives. In this regard, I advocate for leveraging the operational and efficient collaboration between the government and businesses to attain the conference's objectives. Local enterprises should proactively engage in COP29 with a well-defined vision for the sustainable development of their operations. To this end, local companies should commence preparations by establishing internal policies and practices geared towards sustainable business practices aligned with global sustainable development goals. This entails crafting ESG (environment, social, and governance) strategies and roadmaps for the initial years at the least," she added.
"For this purpose, local businesses should undertake an ESG diagnostic and audit of their operations concerning the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. This will enable them to pinpoint key priorities for their strategy and agenda at the conference," Sadikhova concluded.