INTERVIEW WITH MS. NARINE SAHAKYAN, UNDP RESIDENT REPRESENTATIVE IN TURKMENISTAN
SUSTAINABLE CITIES FOR A GREEN FUTURE
October 31, 2022
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been cooperating with the Government of Turkmenistan for over 25 years, being the country's largest international development partner. One of the important areas of your partnership with the Government focuses on environmental protection and combatting the climate change. Tell us about the main directions of this strategic cooperation between UNDP and Turkmenistan?
In Turkmenistan, UNDP supports the implementation of the country's obligations under multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and helps mainstream environmental concerns into national and sectoral plans and strategies.
Over the past 5 years, we have invested more than $20 million in various environmental projects, providing national partners with the necessary resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, adapt to them and promote the implementation of national environmental programmes.
UNDP is one of the main partners for the Government and for such international funds as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Adaptation Fund (AF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for the implementation of major strategic environmental programmes in the country.
The main strategic document of the country in the area of climate change - the National Strategy of Turkmenistan on Climate Change developed with the active support of the UNDP and adopted on 15 June 2012, which gave a serious impetus to strengthening activities on climate change issues in Turkmenistan. After the adoption of the National Strategy, all newly developed national programmes, plans and strategic frameworks were developed taking into account its provisions and climate change issues.
Turkmenistan actively supported the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was ratified by the country in October 2016, and in accordance with the country’s obligations under this Agreement, the National Strategy of Turkmenistan on Climate Change was also revised and approved in a new edition by the Decree of the President of Turkmenistan in September 2019.
In accordance with the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, on 12 May 2022 the Government of Turkmenistan approved an updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) for the submission to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to raise country’s climate ambitions in accordance with the recommendations under Article 4.4 of the Paris Climate Agreement. This strategic document was developed in close cooperation with the UNDP in Turkmenistan, and we will also provide all possible assistance in the implementation of NDC activities.
Currently, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of Turkmenistan, under the coordination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan and the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we are actively working on the preparation of the Fourth National Communication of Turkmenistan (NC4) on climate change and the First Biennial Update Report (BUR1) within the framework of UNFCCC.
All key ministries and departments of Turkmenistan are involved in the preparation of NC4/BUR1, which will help strengthen the existing institutional structures and ensure compliance of national climate reports submitted by Turkmenistan with the requirements of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Joint work with UNDP resulted in the adoption of the new National Strategy of Turkmenistan on the Development of Renewable Energy until 2030 (December 2020) and the new Law of Turkmenistan “On Renewable Energy Resources” (March 2021). Both strategic documents demonstrate the readiness and commitment of the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by introducing clean and renewable energy resources into the energy balance of the national economy.
This year, UNDP, together with national and international partners, launched two new projects in support of the country's environmental and climate agenda - the National Adaptation Planning (NAP) project with the support of the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project for the Turkmen part of the Aral Sea basin. Both projects will assist the country in integrating appropriate adaptation planning mechanisms into national planning and climate change mitigation processes in the country.
Today the world celebrates World Cities Day under the auspices of the UN. Everyone knows that all the countries of the world are becoming more and more urbanized. According to the UN, by 2030, the global share of the urban population is projected to rise further to 60 per cent. What does the United Nations Development Programme do to achieve sustainable urban development at the global and national levels?
The population of cities around the world is growing and is expected to reach 6.5 billion by 2050. Rapid urbanization has a negative impact on the human habitat and all living beings, destroying natural resources, affecting human health and bringing us closer to a climate catastrophe. According to the United Nations, the world's cities cover only 3 percent of the Earth's land area, but they account for 60-80 percent of energy consumption and 75 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Today, most people in the world breathe air, the level of pollution of which 2.5 times higher than the norms of the World Health Organization's (WHO).
Since 2014, the urban population exceeds the rural population in Turkmenistan, and this trend is accelerating. The growth of cities puts significant pressure on the existing energy, water and transport infrastructures, as well as creates problems related to waste management and increased pollution.
UNDP improves living conditions in cities around the world by promoting integrated solutions to reduce carbon emissions and increase climate resilience, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable urban management and development strategies.
The right urbanization policy can significantly improve the standard of living of the population, increase economic well-being, mitigate the effects of climate change and accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals.
Achieving gender equality is an integral part of each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A new report published by Arup, UNDP and the University of Liverpool “Cities Alive: Designing Cities that Work for Women” found that approximately 4.5 billion people, or 55% of the world's population, live in urban areas, and 50% of the world’s population are women and girls. Although girls and women make up half of the world's urban population, they face a number of development challenges.
According to the UNDP Report, for decades, city officials and environmental professionals have neglected the needs of women and girls in urban design and planning, excluding them from data collection, research and design process. Gender-sensitive urban planning, design and development require well-thought-out social and economic policies and ensuring equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to realize a fair future in all cities for all.
If urban development processes do not take into account the diverse needs and views of women themselves, this can have a negative impact not only on their lives, but on the whole society. As noted by Mr. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator: “Gender-equal cities can generate enormous economic, environmental, political, and social benefits.”
UNDP will continue its work on building more inclusive, fair and safe cities that are developed taking into account the interests and needs of women and girls within the framework of the UNDP project "Sustainable Cities in Turkmenistan: Integrated Green Urban Development in Ashgabat and Avaza” funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
This UNDP project promotes the development of sustainable cities and reduces the negative impacts of urban growth in the country, focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, implementing energy reduction practices, and improving the regulatory framework for energy conservation. The project also actively supports national efforts on environmental monitoring, waste management, sustainable urban transport, innovation in the hotel sector in Avaza.
In particular, I would like to mention our work on improving the system of waste management in Turkmenistan. UNDP supported the development of a draft of a new Concept of Turkmenistan in the field of Waste Management, regulatory legal acts – “Waste Classifier” and “Criteria for classifying hazardous waste”.
The waste collection and disposal campaign, initiated by UNDP together with the Nature Protection Society of Turkmenistan, resulted in the collection, sorting and recycling of more than 90 tons of plastic waste in the capital of the country during two stages of the pilot project. The campaign actively involved residents of the capital, students, schoolchildren, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the private sector, which demonstrated public’s interest in solutions to the problem of plastic pollution. As Mr. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator noted in one of his speeches, “Each of us can make an easy personal commitment to beat plastic pollution and stop using single-use plastic. Earth is not a single-use planet, and your actions can make a difference.”
UNDP also promotes the use of alternative "green" transport to reduce the negative impact of transport on air quality and promotes environmentally sustainable behavior among the population. To encourage residents to use greener modes of transport, bicycle racks were installed in the pilot sites of the project to reduce an individual's carbon footprint.
It is important for every city to have an effective environmental monitoring system. For this purpose, special laboratory equipment was purchased to monitor the state of environmental pollution in Ashgabat.
Currently, new equipment is actively used by the specialists of chemical laboratories of the Ecological Control Service and inspectors, both in stationary conditions and on the road, when monitoring emissions into the atmosphere, water pollution, emissions from industrial enterprises, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
UNDP is also active in the National Tourist Zone “Avaza” located on the Caspian coast. Could you please tell us about the main achievements of the joint work aimed at turning Avaza into a sustainable city?
The National Tourist Zone “Avaza”project initiated by the Government of Turkmenistan occupies a special place in the country's strategic plans for the coming decades, and, of course, we could not stay away from this important initiative. UNDP is building the capacity of relevant national departments by introducing international “green” construction standards and discussing the possibility of introducing "green" standards in Avaza hotels. With the assistance of UNDP, a review of international certification systems for green construction, such as BREEAM, LEED and DGNB was conducted, prospects and problems of their implementation were discussed. At this stage, we are discussing the possibility of developing our own "green" standard for the hotel sector of Turkmenistan, which will further contribute to the country's implementation of the obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Climate change education is key to achieving sustainable development. What work is done by UNDP to educate the younger generation in a spirit of respect for nature and the resources of the earth?
In order to reduce the burden on the environment and ensure the sustainable use of the existing resources, minimize waste and reduce environmental pollution, it is necessary to instill nature friendly behavior from an early age. UNDP, with the support of the Global Environment Facility, developed the “Climate Box” (Climate Box) – an interactive learning kit on climate change for schoolchildren, which was highly appreciated by experts, teachers and schoolchildren as well as low-income family children and teachers from different countries.
UNDP, together with the Ministry of Education of Turkmenistan, prepared and introduced into the primary school curriculum a version of the Climate Box adapted for the country context. It provides important information on global climate change in an interesting, interactive and entertaining way.
Hundreds of teachers were able to apply the toolkit and knowledge during the lessons of Ecology, Geography, History and Biology using interactive teaching methods and inspiring children to follow environmentally friendly lifestyle.
UNDP also regularly organizes lessons and environmental initiatives for children, providing the younger generation with an opportunity to think on their personal response to global environmental challenges and start implementing their own sustainable solutions.
Most recently, UNDP organized the participation of young SDG Ambassadors of Turkmenistan in the Regional Workshop on Youth Environmental Activism. The forum brought together more than 40 young environmental activists from Europe and the CIS and provided a platform for the exchange of experience and knowledge and the expansion of regional cooperation in the field of environment and climate change among young people.
Young people are some of the most vulnerable to the lifelong environmental effects caused by climate change. According to the most recent UNDP study “Aiming higher: Elevating Meaningful Youth Engagement for Climate Action” it is projected that a child born in 2021 will live through seven times as many heatwaves, nearly three times as many droughts and twice as many wildfires. In the Europe and CIS region, youth movements and activism have played a prominent role in calling for action to address conflict prevention, mitigate climate change and sustain peace and stability.
Last year, on the eve of the Global Youth Conference (COY16) and the 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow, the British Embassy, the UN System in Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan jointly organized the first Youth Conference on climate change in Turkmenistan.
Building on the success of the previous year, the second Climate Change Youth Conference (LCOY) was held this year on October 25 to highlight the role of the younger generation as a key partner in the fight against climate change, increase youth environmental awareness and inspire the country's younger generation to actively participate in efforts to tackle climate change.
This year, Turkmenistan submitted an updated NDC on the Paris Climate Agreement to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. What is the role of UNDP in the preparation and implementation of this strategic national document in the area of climate change?
NDC stands for Nationally Determined Contributions and, as we said in the beginning of our conversation, represents the goals that each country has set for itself to join the global effort to combat climate change, focusing on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation plans.
The planned reduction of emissions in the new NDC is a confirmation of Turkmenistan's commitment to international efforts under the Paris Agreement on climate, which intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030. According to the Government, this goal remains the highest of all possible ambitions that Turkmenistan can achieve by implementing measures to reduce GHG emissions in such sectors as energy, transport, agriculture, industrial processes, and product use (IPPU), waste, as well as by using co-mitigation benefits from adaptation measures to climate change.
UNDP fully supported the process of development of the updated NDC and will make every effort to support the implementation of this strategic document in accordance with the national socio-economic priorities of the country.
The implementation of the climate goals set by Turkmenistan towards sustainable development will require participation and interaction of key government entities, the private sector and civil society, as well as continued active cooperation with the international organizations. At the same time, the implementation of Turkmenistan’s climate agenda is not possible without the engagement of its citizens, who can play a significant role through making their sustainable choice. Actions of each person are important to save the planet. The future of humanity and our planet depends on the behavior of each of us.
On 31 October we celebrate World Cities Day. On this day, we once again encourage everyone to take care of nature, lead a more sustainable lifestyle and unite to make long-term solutions to create greener, fairer and more sustainable cities for ourselves and for future generations.
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