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Caspian Sea States Take Further Steps Against Oil Pollution

The five countries bordering the Caspian Sea are to introduce an emergency response system to tackle oil pollution in the world’s largest enclosed body of water as well as enhanced monitoring measures under new protocols to a United-Nations backed treaty.

High-level representatives from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan agreed on the new steps in Aktau, Kazakhstan, last week at a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Tehran Convention, a legally-binding agreement adopted in the Iranian capital in 2003, for which the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) provides the Secretariat.

“The adoption of the Protocol Concerning Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents by the five Caspian States marks a historic milestone in their determination to protect and preserve the Caspian Sea environment against the threats posed by oil pollution,” UNEP said in a news release today.

“Once ratified by the parties to the Tehran Convention, the Protocol will see the introduction of an emergency response system for dealing with oil pollution incidents.”

Over the last two decades, the Caspian has become increasingly exposed to the risk of pollution from oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transport, with the transport of oil or oil products accounting for some 10,000 shipping movements annually.

The countries also agreed in principle on the text of a protocol on environmental impact assessment, introducing common rules to assess planned activities likely to cause significant adverse effects on the marine environment. It will also require countries to notify one another of such activities.

The isolation of the Caspian basin for over two million years and its climatic and salinity gradients has created a unique ecological system with more than 400 endemic species including 115 species of fish, among them the caviar-bearing Caspian sturgeon and the rare freshwater seal, which are threatened by over-exploitation, habitat destruction and pollution.

“Improving knowledge about potential environmental impacts is the very backbone of international environmental cooperation and good inter-State relationships,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said during the Aktau meeting.

“Addressing concerns related to potential adverse environmental trans-boundary impacts is the best recipe for preventing such impacts and safeguarding peace and stability.”

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