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Environmental Issues

The Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) performed a Caspian Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA). A TDA is a scientific and technical assessment of the water-related environmental issues and problems, their causes, and impacts, both environmental and economic, at national, regional and global levels, taking into account the social-economic, political and institutional systems within each riparian country.

The Caspian Sea major environmental issues include:

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The Caspian Sea is rich in marine fish of commercial value. The Sea is world famous due to the presence of a unique specie of sturgeon which is of commercial value due to its black caviar and very tasty meat (link to Biodiversity, Commercially valuable species, Fish). At its peak, the Caspian supplied more than 80% of the world’s sturgeon stock. These fish species, which are living fossils, are now on the verge of extinction due to reduction of reproduction grounds, overfishing and water pollution by pesticides, heavy metals and oil products. In recent years, sturgeon landings have decreased dramatically: from 30,000 tons in 1985 to only 5,672 tons in 1995. A quota system, introduced together with a temporary ban on pelagic fishing, does not appear to have been effective in reviving the dwindling fish populations. The majority of sturgeon population is now supported artificially. While fishing methods have clearly become more efficient and overfishing has occurred, one of the most severe threat to the sturgeon and other anadromous species is thought to arise from the construction of numerous dams on the Volga and Kura rivers. These dams bar fish from their primary spawning areas. Due to high levels of water pollution, sturgeons suffer from various diseases such as hepatoxical hypoxiya (muscle blistering). Poaching has dramatically increased during recent years and is thought to be among the main causes for the population decline of the sturgeon.

1. Protection of Biodiversity

2. Pollution Control

3. Fisheries and Commercial Bioresources Management

4. Effective Regional Assessment of Contaminant Levels

5. Water level Fluctuation

Water-level fluctuations is a natural cyclic phenomena which causes serious consequences for the region. Water-level fluctuations have been known to displace thousands of people, destroy investments in industry and infrastructure and cause severe pollution threats via inundation of coastal waste sites.

6. Pollution Control

The Volga River, the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the European land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian’s freshwater inflow. Its overall contribution to the Caspian may have diminished somewhat over the years due to extensive dam construction. Its lower reaches are heavily developed with numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological pollutants. Although existing data is sparse and of questionable quality, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Volga is one of the principal sources of transboundary contaminants into the Caspian.

The Caspian basin is rich in commercially developable hydrocarbon deposits. There are significant numbers of oil and gas producing industries and new exploration activity is under way. Oil and oil products generate constant traffic that has been estimated to total approximately 10,000 shipping movements annually. The magnitude of oil and gas extraction and transport activity thus constitutes a risk to water quality. Underwater oil and gas pipelines have been constructed or proposed, increasing potential environmental threats. Commercial activity (fishing fleets, passenger, dry goods and other cargo traffic) utilizes the Caspian en route to the Black Sea or the Baltic via the Volga-Don canal system. This combined traffic has a number of possible impacts on the Caspian's environmental integrity. For example, the Volga-Don connection poses a threat in the form of introduction of exotic species through ballast waters inter alia, and stringent measures may be needed to prevent this threat.

7. Emergency Response

8. Human Sustainable Development & Health

Social and Economic Issues

1. An estimated human population of approximately 11 million is distributed around the Caspian shoreline. The main urban centres of population are concentrated on the western and southern shores. Coastal provinces in Iran and Azerbaijan, in particular, dominate the demography of the Caspian.

2. The current annual Gross National Products (GNP) per capita of the Caspian States are: Azerbaijan US$1240; Iran US$1255; Kazakhstan US$2030; Russia US$3470; Turkmenistan US$1440.

3. Principal economic activities in the Caspian basin include fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas production, and related downstream industries. At their peak, revenues to the riparian countries from sturgeon, including caviar, were as much as US$6 billion annually. Rice, vegetable cultivation and cattle and sheep husbandry are the prime agricultural activities in the catchment area. Oil exploration and production are increasing along all shelves of the Caspian by all countries, and are already well established in the Baku (onshore and offshore) and Tenghiz (onshore) regions. Oil production is expected to increase dramatically during the next few decades.

Legislative Issues

1. An international legal framework for cooperation in protection and sustainable use of the Caspian natural resources is seen as a major, overarching component of regional cooperation at large. An urgent need for a cooperative framework is evident from an ecological point of view, as clearly identified by the littoral states.

2. UNEP has assisted the region in developing the basic elements for a Framework Convention for the Protection and Sustainable Management of the Caspian Environment and its Resources. The Framework Convention is to include pollution prevention, reduction and control; protection, preservation and restoration of the marine environment; procedures to fulfill the obligations contained in a Framework Convention; and formation of the Organization for the Protection of the Sustainable Management of the Caspian Environment and its Resources. Work is proceeding to develop a final draft Framework Convention for consideration by the Caspian states in January 1999.

Institutional Issues

1. The statutory, administrative and procedural capabilities for multi-national regional environmental administration and management in the Caspian are not uniformly strong. Some countries are only now adopting laws for environmental management. Effective implementation of these new standards remains a task for the future. Administrative structures may be biased towards inspection, policing and enforcement rather than education, information and compliance. Strong differences exist between states, with some states (for instance, Iran) comparatively more advanced than others.

2. The Environmental Impact Assessment Process, or its equivalent, is a legal requirement in the majority of the Caspian countries. However, the manner in which it is applied, particularly the scoping process and provisions for follow up, is not systematic between states.

3. In contrast, national capabilities in environmental administration, research, monitoring and data collection are generally adequate throughout the region and, in parts, strong. In the past, some research institutions have operated on their own initiative rather than in response to the needs of policy-makers, planners and managers. There is also a widespread inability to market scientific expertise and to translate scientific results for policy makers. The links between science and policy are presently weak and should be strengthened by a regional program.

9. Legal Regulatory and Economic Instruments

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