Azerbaijan will put pollution, water shortages and the need to help poorer countries get their hands on clean technology top of the agenda when it hosts Cop29 later this year, The National has been told.
Taking place in Baku in November, the government wants to send a signal of peace to the region after an exchange of olive branches with Armenia broke a stalemate on staging the talks.
An oil and gas exporter, Azerbaijan believes the success of the Cop28 talks in the UAE shows it makes sense to have fossil-fuel exporters inside the tent, one of its most senior diplomats said.
Azerbaijan will take over the Cop presidency from the Emirates in November, when thousands of government officials, delegates and ministers meet for the 12-day summit.
Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador in London, said Cop29 could “go beyond” the world’s main 1.5°C target and into wider environmental issues such as water shortages, which affect Central Asia and the Middle East.
In an interview with The National sketching out Azerbaijan’s plans for its year in the spotlight, he said:
- The shrinking Caspian Sea is among the regional hazards Azerbaijan wants to give a higher profile
- While finance for the developing world will be one focus, giving it access to key technology is a higher priority
- The talks could emphasise that conflicts such as the Israel-Gaza and Ukraine wars have an environmental cost
- The summit hosts plan to draw on the experience of previous climate talks such as Cop26 in Britain
- Azerbaijan will continue to export oil and gas even as it looks to shift towards green energy with the help of investment from the UAE’s Masdar.
The Cop28 talks in Dubai ended with a compromise agreement that the world should “transition away from fossil fuels”.
Alongside deals on expanding low-carbon energy, it is hoped the pledges of Cop28 will keep hopes alive of curbing global warming to 1.5°C. Mr Suleymanov called it perhaps the “most notable milestone Cop” of recent years.
A key question passed on to Azerbaijan is how to pay for what was agreed in the UAE.
The world will agree to a new financial pledge to replace a promised $100 billion for developing countries, which was delayed by several years.
However, Mr Suleymanov believes the Baku summit can be more than a “finance Cop” that bridges the gap to Cop30 in Brazil.
He said: “There will probably be some focus on the financing issues but I think more than financing what we need to look at is technology transfer,” in which poorer countries are given access to state-of-the-art clean tech.
“Technology transfer is even more important because it enables developing nations to be more self-sufficient, more advanced,” he added. “If we could make some breakthroughs on technology transfer, that would be a very important milestone contribution.
“You can’t say, ‘I will not give you technology but I want you not to do certain things’. That’s not how it works.”
Also of great interest to Azerbaijan is tackling pollution left over from Soviet heavy industry and preventing water shortages linked to dwindling supplies from the Caspian Sea.
The virtual disappearance of the Aral Sea, a once-thriving fishing lake replaced by a bleak desert, offers the region a stark warning of what can happen when water is mismanaged. Azerbaijan wants to raise the profile of these issues at Cop29.
“It’s not just about carbon emissions, it’s about the environment as a whole,” said Mr Suleymanov, a former ambassador in Washington.
“If we could focus on going beyond 1.5°C and look at the environment as a whole, I think we could have some progress.”
It took months to find a host for Cop29, with politics obstructing Eastern Europe’s turn to select a venue.
With Russia vetoing an EU host, Azerbaijan and Armenia were potentially acceptable to Moscow but their decades-long conflict prevented them from backing each other.
However, after Azerbaijan’s military captured a breakaway Armenian enclave, in December the two countries committed to a historic peace process – with Baku jointly agreed on as Cop29 host in a sign of goodwill.
Azerbaijan, which borders Iran, Turkey and Russia and is often described as an East-West crossroads, plans to make this push for peace a theme of Cop29.
The agreement to hold Cop29 in Baku “shows that there’s a possibility for lasting peace in the region”, Mr Suleymanov said.
He said the talks could put the spotlight on how “mitigation of conflict and lasting peace is actually very good for the environment”.
“If you don’t shoot, if you don’t fly your fighter jets, if you don’t move your tanks, if you don’t disturb settlements, what happens is the damage to the environment is less,” the ambassador said.
The dream for Azerbaijan would be for a historic meeting with Armenian leadership to take place during the summit, he said.
“What we both [Azerbaijan and Armenia] have shown is that there are issues that are more important than our disagreements, that we can agree on the fundamental issue, which is important for the whole of humanity.”
As the UAE knows, Azerbaijan is sure to face scrutiny as it prepares to host Cop29.
In an early bout of bad publicity, Azerbaijan faced criticism when an all-male list emerged of Cop29 committee members. Aides then said the list was not final and 12 women are now on board.
Baku was an early boom town for oil and Azerbaijan produced more of it than the US in 1901. It remains a major fossil fuel exporter today, with the EU signing a deal to buy more gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Azerbaijan’s take is that “energy is not an enemy”, that it will keep producing oil and gas while it is needed, while also trying to “significantly increase” its power generation from solar and wind, Mr Suleymanov said.
He said investment by UAE renewable energy company Masdar, which built a solar plant in Azerbaijan, and other major players such as BP showed the country’s green plans were attracting interest even from fossil fuel exporters.
“In a way, what the UAE has shown is that it’s actually a very positive development to have a fossil fuel-producing country leading the conversation,” he said.
“More than anybody else, perhaps, fossil fuel producers understand that it’s a finite resource.”