Few expected the uprisings which swept across the Middle East in 2011, washing away multiple governments and resulting in escalating violence. At the core are, among other issues, deep socio-economic disparities, not the least resulting from fast increasing prices for basic commodities such as food and energy. Societies were disillusioned with governments which were unwilling or unable to solve these problems. Without early and substantive action, Central Asia may face similar political upheaval due to the impacts of climate change on the water-energy-agriculture nexus.
This is the key finding of a scenario-building process on the impacts of climate change in Central Asia. This paper reports on a workshop with experts and regional stakeholders, which was conducted in November 2011 in Dushanbe. The workshop focused on developing scenarios on how the interaction of climate change, political stability and economic growth may impact the agriculture-water-energy nexus. In addition, it aimed at developing recommendations. It is part of a project launched by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at the Chairmanship conference in Bucharest in October 2009 and jointly implemented with the European Environment Agency (EEA). The workshop in Central Asia was financially supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.
As Central Asia is warming faster than the global average, climate change will hit the region sooner and harder than other areas. Invariably, across all four scenarios developed in the workshop, action has to be taken in the coming decade starting now. If action is delayed, climate change impacts will converge with resource exhaustion and growing regional and global demands for water, food and energy. Social and political structures will become brittle, and events such as severe droughts and other natural disasters can catalyse crisis. Though strong economic growth may mitigate some of the risks, this will only make the region more dependent on imports and thus on other countries. Furthermore, growth based on fossil fuels is not sustainable, as these resources will inevitably be exhausted. Without a viable substitute, first economic and, subsequently, political crisis will occur.
In assessing the different risks and challenges all scenarios provide, the participants identified six priority areas for action. They include (1) early adaptation to climate change and (2) transition to a green economy with a focus of increased resource efficiency. Achieving this will require (3) investment in education, information dissemination, research and further (4) supporting civil society development. All of this needs to be embedded in a framework of (5) strengthened regional integration and (6) improved good governance. Implementing these recommendations requires developing a systemic and comprehensive step-by-step approach. In light of the limited results of Durban, followup activities on the national, bilateral and regional levels are urgently needed to operationalise each of the priority areas.