The United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) office in Azerbaijan once again acted as catalyst that brings people together to address challenges in order to better the life of the people of Azerbaijan. A motto "think green - live green" was the essence of various UN DPI activities around 5 June World Environment Day, including observance that culminated with a media briefing on the eve of the Day.
Bringing together representatives of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, as well as other international organizations, academia, non-government and business sectors, UN DPI opted for a "perfect storm" to help renew the public and media interest in environmental issues in Azerbaijan.
Emphasizing the high importance of climate change and the world's environment in the current UN agenda, the DPI Representative in the UN Azerbaijan office, Ms. Envera Selimovic underlined that "failing to face these issues could ruin development and the UN is always ready to help translate global concerns into national action." She also noted that in order to meet today's challenges we need commitment not only at the political level, but also at the corporate and grassroots levels. Pointing towards some simple "green" actions like planting trees or the cleaning of surroundings, these activities can be done by everybody, Ms. Selimovic added: "The costs of doing that is so little, but the cost of not doing so might be huge".
Thanking UN DPI for organizing the briefing aimed at renewing public and media interest in environmental issues, Mr. Firdovsi Aliyev, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources shed some light on the overall efforts of the Ministry in addressing environmental challenges within the framework of five general national programmes.
"Since 2001 the Ministry has established seven new National Parks thus achieving an unprecedented growth of reserved natural zones from 4% to 8.1%," said Mr. Aliyev while talking about practical achievements. He added that sixty thousand hectares of new forests are already planted according to the National Programme for Forests Rehabilitation. Adding that various groups and organizations planted nearly 5.5 million trees within the "Lets plant a tree for each of us" initiative, Mr. Aliyev also emphasised the need for active participation of wider communities in preserving and enhancing the environment.
Mr. David Eizenberg, Deputy Resident Representative of the UNDP in Azerbaijan reminded, along with Azerbaijan's great achievement of being one of the fastest growing economies in the world in the last three years, comes not only many positive consequences, it also carries one potential risk: the pressure that it places on environment: "I am pleased to be here today... to join with representatives of the Government, civil society, international organisations and the people of Azerbaijan to urge all of us to be "greener" in the way in which we build our lives". He added that to improve the environment in Azerbaijan the UNDP is working together with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the government of Norway on various projects. "When we talk about how to improve the environment, we have to operate on at least four different levels: international, regional, national and personal" said Mr. Eizenberg, referring to the importance of regional cooperation witnessed at the international conference on the Caspian marine environment, hosted recently in Baku.
"The World Bank works together with the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and the UNDP as managing partners of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a fund helping countries translate global concerns into national action", said Ms. Saida Bagirly, the WB Country Office Senior Operations Officer. "The negative impact of environmental problems and climate change in particular on the world economy in ten years will be counted by hundreds of billions of dollars" she warned. Ms. Bagirly also informed the audience about various environmental projects implemented together with the Government of Azerbaijan and other partners, such as projects on increasing sturgeon population of the Caspian Sea, enhancement of the natural environment in country regions and the rehabilitation of the Absheron Peninsula.
"Our policy is very simple: no accidents, no harm to humans, and no harm to the environment" said Mr. Faig Askerov, Environmental Manager of the BP Azerbaijan Strategic Performance Unit. Speaking about the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli, Shahdeniz and other international projects operated by BP and its partners in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, Mr. Askerov emphasised that special attention is given to the evaluation and continuous monitoring of the environment. "We are investing in environmental projects in Azerbaijan and bringing in the latest ecologically-clean technologies," Mr. Askerov said.
Mr. Telman Zeynalov, President of the National Ecological Forecasting Centre and Coordinator of the Department of Ecology at the National NGO Forum overviewed a wide range of environmental projects implemented by NGOs in Azerbaijan. "We can enhance the environment just as we could damage it," he added speaking about the successful pilot of the project on rehabilitation of oil-polluted lands in the Absheron Peninsula. Mr. Zeynalov also emphasised the need for alternative energy sources and informed the audience about works done in this field such as the World Bank-supported country project on producing biogas from waste.
"It is for the first time when we have such a meeting where all sides are represented" said Mr. Rafig Verdiyev, National coordinator of the USAID South Caucasus Water Program. Reminded of the ongoing UN Decade on Water he noted the importance of access to safe drinking water supplies for sustainable development. Considering that waste coming from trans-border water sources contaminates 70% of Azerbaijan's water supply, Mr. Verdiyev touched upon the problem of trans-boundary pollution and the need for sharing information on a regional level: "The simplest way of solving this problem is establishing common standards for monitoring and making all data open to all".
"In order to effectively treat an illness we should correctly diagnose it first" said Mr. Donmez Majidov, Deputy Director on Academic Affairs of the Institute of Ecology, noting the need for the development of measurement instrumentation and unified ecological norms. He also supported the idea of establishing a centralized national environmental monitoring system. Touching upon the role of media in raising awareness about environmental issues, Mr. Majidov pointed at some common mistakes made by journalists, such as misusing the word 'ecology', and at a possible solution through special trainings for media.
Mr. Islam Mustafayev, Head of the "Ruzgar" Ecological Public Union focused on the need for setting national priorities and coordination between different organisations working on the environment: "There should be some inherent principle uniting different projects implemented around the same issues for a more holistic approach". He also noted the crucial role of communities in changing attitudes towards environmental issues and the importance of deepening public awareness of the need to preserve and enhance the environment: "We should have more of these kinds of meetings".
Journalists responded enthusiastically to the call from the UN DPI office in Azerbaijan "to take an active role in raising awareness about the environmental issues that are most urgent and topical in the country", and also agreed that journalistic training in this field would be very helpful for members of the media. The environment was in the public's focus during the two weeks prior to the Day with the 22 May International Day for Biological Diversity observance and 23 May celebrated as the Professional Holiday of Employees of Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources for the first time in Azerbaijan.
The main nation-wide TV and radio broadcasting stations highlighted various activities organized around World Environment Day, including an animated matinee including music, poems and songs at the Bul-bul Music School in Baku on 17 May, where the UN DPI Representative together with representatives of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources had a lively educative discussion with school children around environmental issues.
Between 23-25 May, Baku also hosted the inaugural conference for the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, where high-ranking officials of five Caspian neighbours worked on four protocols of the Convention to outline specific, detailed obligations in the fields of biodiversity conservation, environmental impact assessment, oil pollution incidents and pollution from land-based sources. UN DPI provided extensive media support to the UNEP by translating the materials into the local language and disseminating them at the conference.
On 2 June the UN DPI Representative accompanied the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources on their excursion to monitor and water trees recently planted near Devechi and participated in watering and ensuring that the saplings were growing straight and unhindered. "Planting trees might seem like a small step in supporting the fast-growing economy of Azerbaijan, but in the long run it could be a very important contribution in poverty eradication and safeguarding the clean socio-economic growth of the country" said Ms. Selimovic in her exclusive interview with LiderTV from the field.
In wrapping up activities around the World Environment Day, on 10 June the DPI Representative accompanied children from orphanage No.21 to the Central Botanical Garden, along with university activists who used to be interns in the UN Office in Azerbaijan. There was a lot of fun and joy and simple discussion on "what can you do" to save the environment. The sunny drenched Garden - which has a collection of 2000 different species, forms and kinds of valuable local and exotic trees, bushes, floral and herbal plants - was a perfect place to finish this two-weeklong celebration of the World Environment Day in Azerbaijan.
The UN Secretary-General's message was also quoted on various occasions by different media outlets. "On this World Environment Day, let us recognize the need to slow the momentum of the dramatic environmental changes we are seeing at the poles and around the globe. And let each of us pledge to do our part to fight climate change."