2024 CICA Environmental Conference to Spotlight Regional Challenges 

Environmental sustainability has become a requisite for economic development as well as security advancements. According to various growth model indicators, this is most evident in Asia, which houses some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Their development is facing a huge risk of slowing down because of climate anomalies that are causing large-scale damage not only to the natural environment but also to the economy, infrastructure, security and health, among others.

Dr. Ugur Turan is an expert of the CICA Secretariat on confidence building measures in the Environmental Dimension with an academic background as an experienced Turkish researcher. Photo credit: s-cica.org.

At the sixth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, the member states raised concerns about the colossal impact of environmental problems and highlighted the urgency for joint climate action. Challenges, such as increasingly unpredictable natural disasters and ecological degradation, transcend national borders; some of the worst victims of climate change have been countries with the least contribution to pollution, such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. The burden of developing solutions and mitigating the negative effects ultimately falls on everyone’s shoulders and, thus, is easier shared by all nations.

The 2024 High-level CICA Conference on Environmental Issues proposed by the President of Kazakhstan at the sixth summit offers a starting point for CICA towards establishing frameworks or working groups for productive discussions on environmental problems in the CICA region. The result of this conference is expected to serve as a foundation for the establishment of the CICA Council for cooperation in the field of ecology. This mode of interaction between the member states may produce several positive outcomes for Asia and beyond.

The high-level conference provides an opportunity to raise awareness of specific environmental issues faced by each CICA member state. Natural disasters in the region often affect multiple countries in close proximity. The exchange of information accelerates the establishment of concrete conference guidelines on environmental problems and natural disasters. 

Additionally, it has the potential to be a platform where CICA members can set their own environmental targets within the CICA region. This can also help build a sense of ownership and commitment to achieve them, moving environmental issues higher on the priority list. Solutions may be designed according to specific regional or sub-regional needs, which can help generate faster outcomes. Moreover, circulating the matrix of set goals and their implementations among the member states may also be effective in identifying the support, financial resources, technology exchange and opportunities needed by each state. 

Another point is that the member states can establish a synergy for sharing best practices with regard to environmental initiatives or specific issues in a detailed time frame. All at once, it can open up dialogue to exchange information on the setbacks so that participants develop more effective solutions. This also gives space for countries who share similar geographical features to interact and cooperate on conservation efforts.

By organizing such a high-level conference, the CICA platform will be able to demonstrate its commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development. Asia, as a continent with a large population, robust economic growth, and geographical diversity, faces a much greater challenge in incorporating a wide variety of approaches for tackling various problems. Realizing these initiatives through an international organization would gain the attention of the rest of the global community and, hence, raise the significance of environmental issues even further. 

On a practical level, a high-level event of this kind provides additional motivation to the member states to make an encouraging change. It is inevitable that resolutions of the conference will include scheduling training, workshops and seminars that provide practical knowledge, skills and tools needed to take action. 

Currently, activities as part of the CICA environmental dimension carried out within each of its priority areas are initiated by coordinators and co-coordinators, who set specific goals. For example, since 2021, within the scope of environmental sustainability, the CICA Secretariat has had a tradition of planting trees at the CICA Alley in the Presidential Park of Astana. The aim is to inspire the launch of this event in the capitals of all CICA member states. 

Another eco-friendly tradition is the CICA Bicycle Tour, which is held on June 3 to celebrate World Bicycle Day. This activity raises awareness about the air pollution caused by vehicle use, traffic density, and the importance of public transportation and movement for health.

The member states under the umbrella of an international organization focused on dialogue and consensus may benefit from such a high-level conference, as environmental protection is a crucial factor in ensuring regional stability. Environmental degradation leads to the deterioration of land, water scarcity, desertification, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, heat waves, and other natural disasters, which often become the main source of conflict and economic vulnerability. Providing an opportunity for open discussions on environmental challenges not only mitigates the effects of climate change but also contributes to maintaining peace, security, as well as the green transformation of Asian countries. In line with the above-mentioned targets, CICA experts’ meetings are planned to take place prior to the 2024 Environmental Conference. It is expected that these meetings will discuss regional problems and share the experiences of the member states.

The CICA region witnesses various environmental events. The negative consequences of climate change manifest in diverse forms for each member state. Landlocked countries must tackle droughts and desertification and the shrinking grazing lands for livestock, while countries near large bodies of water face heavy rainfall and disastrous floods. The economic cost of climate change also presents a significant hindrance to sustainable development. 

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in 2021, 57 million people in Asia were affected by natural disasters – and the risks are forecasted to only grow. By 2048, the possible damage to Asian economies from such natural disasters could be up to 26.5% of the gross domestic product of the region, warns the Swiss Re Institute. Evidence of this is already recorded in countries such as Bangladesh where, in 2022 alone, over 7.1 million people became climate refugees due to cyclones, river erosion and salinity, as reported by the World Health Organization. 

The World Bank assessed that the unprecedented rains and flooding in 2022 had submerged more than one-third of Pakistan underwater, costing the economy over $30 billion.

To combat the negative effects of climate change and promote environmental resilience, the CICA member states called for international cooperation and aligning climate strategies with international agreements. During the sixth CICA summit, Tajikistan stated the urgency of strengthening joint initiatives, while Türkiye highlighted confidence-building measures in the environmental dimension as one of the most significant fields of CICA activity. 

The Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, among other commitments on climate action, were emphasized by countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam as imperative frameworks to adopt climate decisions and establish close coordination. Bangladesh mentioned, in particular, the implementation of climate finance pledges by developed countries that are commensurate with the principle of “loss and damage,” and this topic was also underlined during the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27). 

Further, member states also offered their proposals on initiatives for joint coordination on climate actions. Mongolia, as the coordinator of the environment protection priority area, initiated the One Billion Trees by 2030 national movement to plant, grow, and protect billions of saplings. Tajikistan proposed to declare 2025 the international year for the protection of glaciers, to bring the attention of the world community to water and climate problems and the melting of glaciers. Uzbekistan suggested uniting efforts and launching regular expert consultations within the Green Asia conceptual program to ensure the intensive greening of countries and support vulnerable ecosystems.

Some CICA member states, such as Mongolia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), also reaffirmed their willingness to offer their experiences and best practices in mitigating the negative effects of climate change. Thailand, as the coordinator of the sustainable development priority area under the environmental dimension, expressed willingness to share its strategy for post-pandemic recovery and achieving sustainable development goals, the Bio-Circular Green (BCG) Economy Model. Moreover, Thailand added that the BCG model could be used in the CICA member states to complement the respective development goals. 

Similarly, the UAE is leading efforts to combat climate change by using its natural and technological advantages as an energy hub to create an ecosystem for environmental solutions. In January, the UAE held the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the world’s largest annual sustainability event. The UAE is also preparing to host the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) in 2023 in Dubai, focusing on the economic case for inclusive climate action. It is worth mentioning that COP27 was hosted by Egypt, another CICA member state.

The CICA High-level Conference on Environmental Issues will give an opportunity for the member states to discuss tackling specific challenges, understand current environmental problems of the region and share best practices with each other. The conference will also place emphasis on developing activities in the priority areas of the environmental dimension of CICA, enhancing Asian cooperation.

The CICA High-level Conference will offer an opportunity for the member states to receive more spotlight to share their challenges as well as best practices in a sustainable dialogue through the establishment of the Environmental Council. After all, the CICA member states also play an influential role in meetings such as the Conference of the Parties, which focuses on reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its protocols and discussing international climate change policies. 

Similarly, CICA participates in the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development under the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), which addresses various environmental and development issues, including climate change, biodiversity conservation, sustainable consumption, and poverty eradication. For instance, CICA Secretary General Ambassador Kairat Sarybay took part in the 79th session of ESCAP, where he highlighted the achievements of the conference in implementing confidence-building measures in the environmental dimension. The secretary-general noted that the conference would be held “to discuss and understand the members’ environmental perspectives, current issues, mitigation and adaptations that need to be made, and to prepare the necessary documents.” He also stressed that the conference “is vital for both Asia and beyond” in terms of achieving environmental sustainability.

In conclusion, the Environmental Conference in 2024 will allow the CICA member states to set their own targets and methods of implementation for their specific regional problems while reaffirming their commitment to sustainability goals as part of various international agreements. There is no doubt that the expected outcomes of this conference will strengthen confidence-building measures in the CICA region. Thus, the future CICA Environmental Council, ideally, will ensure that the member states remain in dialogue in a sustainable manner and allow them to act together on environmental issues. There is a need for joint action and solidarity for a sustainable environment of tomorrow.

The author is Dr. Ugur Turan, an expert on the environmental dimension of the CICA Secretariat on confidence-building measures. He worked in China and Türkiye, as a researcher on international organizations’ projects.

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