Necessity of Investigating Caspian Sea Level Decrease’s Causes in Cooperation with Coastal Countries

2023/09/04 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Interview: A faculty member at Tarbiat Modares University said: The only binding legal mechanism for the marine environment of the Caspian Sea is the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, also known as the “Tehran Convention,” with its five protocols, which have many capacities and whose scope includes various issues, including prevention and reduction of pollution, Caspian Sea level fluctuations, exchange of and access to information, management of coastal areas, etc. While examining such capacities for the cooperation of the coastal countries, they should be made more active by removing the obstacles to preserve and strengthen the marine and environmental regime of the Caspian Sea.

Dr. Hojjat Mianabadi, in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, explained the complexity and intertwining of the issues of marine environments while emphasizing that the Caspian Sea, in addition to water and environmental dimensions, has important political, security, climatic, geopolitical, energy, economic and even identity and social dimensions and said: The weakness of the multifaceted approach in the past few decades to the Caspian Sea is one of the biggest mistakes regarding this water area.

Saying that repeating clichéd words about environmental causes is the easiest thing, he said: Unfortunately, we have always been biased in this regard. But we have to ask, can we point to some documents and studies in which the hydropolitical studies of the Caspian Sea have been conducted to investigate the effects, connection, and intertwining of water on politics and politics on water? Until now, there has been almost no comprehensive hydropolitical study about the entanglement of the Caspian Sea issues. Therefore, many important and unanswered questions exist when we refer to the Caspian Sea issues.

The university professor continued by stating that in some cases, we not only do not know the answers to our vital and strategic questions about the Caspian, but basically, we do not have key and strategic questions for which a study can be conducted, for example, the protocol for environmental impact assessment of the Caspian Sea (EIA), also known as the Moscow Protocol, is one of the five protocols of the Tehran Convention in the field of Caspian environmental regimes, which Tehran signed in Moscow on June 22, 2018, and was approved by the government in the month of Bahman 1398 (January/February 2020). This protocol was sent to the parliament for approval in the month of Esfand (February/March) the same year but has not been approved yet. However, no comprehensive study has yet been conducted to examine the hydro-political, security, and geopolitical opportunities and challenges of our joining this protocol. However, other coastal countries have made important studies about the Caspian.

As for the reports about the retreat of the Caspian Sea, Mianabadi said it should be checked what the normal level of the Caspian Sea is, as a water area connected to the high seas, and explained: From a technical point of view, high seas in the world have a normal level that is clear everywhere, but what is the normal level of the Caspian Sea as a closed environment? The coastline, compared to the normal level, is advancing or retreating! There is no doubt that the Caspian has retreated, and the level has changed in the past years, but which studies and surveys have been done to show whether this retreat was made after a significant advance? The normal situation is not specified to be able to judge how much retreat has taken place compared to the normal position, or are we still in the advanced stage?

Mianabadi pointed to Kazakhstan’s assessments that, based on the comparison of satellite images of the Caspian Sea over the past 15 years, the sea is rapidly shrinking and said: The lifespan of satellite images is not very long, and for example, it is not possible to check the level of water in the sea in the past 80 years. There are even contradictory narratives about this issue, and sometimes, the initial analysis of other images claims that the level and volume of the Caspian water have not changed much. This is the same issue that should be evaluated in independent studies. This issue does not mean rejecting or confirming any particular case but underlying the necessity of joint studies, which has also been emphasized in the convention.

The Tarbiat Modares University faculty member emphasized that water areas, based on their natural characteristics, show changes. They have never had the same volume throughout history, adding that retreat, advance, drought, and wet years are natural changes. If the amount of rainfall is always stable, it is unnatural; therefore, the decrease and increase of all areas of water is part of the essence of that phenomenon, and it is unnatural if this drying, shrinking, or growing is caused by human interference. For example, Lake Urmia has dried up many times, but this time, studies have proven that human intervention rather than natural changes mainly cause the shrinking of Lake Urmia. And from here, it has become an unusual issue that should be worried about.

Saying that some studies claim that the Caspian Sea undergoes natural retreat and subsequent advance every 300 to 500 years, he reminded of the advance of Lake Urmia in 2006 and the flooding of agricultural lands. He said: Although there are concerns about the effect of climate change on the shrinking of the Caspian Sea, it is normal, but the linear analysis done is not necessarily scientific.

Recalling that climate change causes a decrease in rainfall in some areas and an increase in rainfall in other areas, Mianabadi pointed to the criticisms of the consequences of closing the water of the Volga River to the Caspian Sea by Russia and stated that it should be checked that if we are in the period of Caspian retreat, how much of its retreat is natural and how much is man-made? How long is the range of natural changes in the Caspian Sea? Although measures should be taken to correct the consequences of some natural changes, if the natural changes are hindered, we have done an un-environmental action.

The university professor stated that it is necessary to examine the level and status of the relations between the Caspian coastal countries, whether they are cooperation-oriented or conflict-oriented, while we are witnessing a decrease in cooperation at some levels and said: It is necessary to examine how much the input of the Caspian from its natural resources has changed so far. Does the “Volga” catchment basin, from a natural point of view, allow Russia to control the capacity of the Volga River, similar to Turkey? The environmental organization and the custodian institutions should assess the volume of reservoirs of Russian dams in the Volga and the volume of reservoirs of dams in Azerbaijan and Georgia and present them scientifically. In any case, a part of the Caspian and Volga water resources is supplied from other basins such as “Aras-Kura.” “Aras-Kura” also originates west of the Caspian Sea, including Turkey and Georgia. Turkey, Russia, and other coastal and non-coastal countries are effective in the amount of water input from the rivers feeding the Caspian Sea, how much they have built reservoirs in its tributaries, and how much they have contained and can contain.

Mianabadi emphasized that until the policymakers have accurate answers to these questions, they cannot make a correct and scientific statement about the causes of the Caspian Sea shrinking. Coastal countries should clarify these data in cooperation with each other.

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