This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
The 29th session of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP29) will reconvene next year in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The decision resolved a months-long stalemate over where the United Nation's flagship climate summit will be held next. Finally, on December 9, it was announced that after Dubai, this year's host of COP28, the next host will be yet another energy-producing country — Azerbaijan — making it the third year in a row a major oil- and gas-producing nation will host the climate talks.
The summit is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The latter was adopted in 1992. With a near-universal membership of 198 states (197 States and one regional economic integration organization), the convention through COP is tasked with reviewing “the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties; [and] assess the effects of the measures taken by Parties and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention,” according to UNFCCC website.
The ultimate objective of all three agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.
Since 1995, COP has been convening once a year with country hosts chosen on a rotating basis among the five recognized UN regions — Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe, and other states. An Eastern European country was slotted to host COP in 2024.
A consensus must be reached over the next host by every country in this region. The ongoing standstill was caused as a result of Russia threatening to veto any European Union country’s bid, given the EU's sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine. Azerbaijan and Armenia also threatened to veto each other’s bids to host as a result of tensions in relations between the two countries. But on December 8, a breakthrough was finally reached. First, Bulgaria formally withdrew its candidacy, and then Armenia and Azerbaijan released a joint statement in which Armenia said it supported Azerbaijan's bid to preside over COP29.
But while one stalemate may have been resolved, questions loom over the next year's host of COP29, namely Azerbaijan's track record on human rights and freedoms, as well as its intentions on the use of fossil fuels and its plans to curtail emissions. The country's economy heavily depends on oil and gas output, accounting for roughly 90 percent of Azerbaijan's export revenues. While Azerbaijan has two documents acknowledging the limits of the hydro-carbon fueled growth model — Azerbaijan 2030: National Priorities for Socio-Economic Development and the Republic of Azerbaijan Socio-Economic Strategy f0r 2022–2026 (SEDS) — it isn’t currently on track to change these models and therefore likely won’t meet its goals of net zero emissions or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as the country's policies and institutions also remain unfit to meet these goals.
The view from Baku
In addition to national priorities and the strategy documents mentioned above, Azerbaijani legislators approved two bills in 2021 — the Law on the use of renewable energy sources in electricity production and the Law on rational use of energy resources and energy efficiency. Prior to this, the country had no legal framework for energy efficiency. In 2020, the Ministry of Energy set up a Renewable Energy Agency.
Azerbaijan has also invested in some green energy projects like the construction of an electric cable under the Black Sea to transfer Azerbaijani gas from the country's onshore and offshore wind farms to Europe. Yet, it remains unclear how the country intends to meet the goal of net zero emissions or reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and 40 percent by 2050 (compared to the 1990 base year) as per its national targets. This is also reflected in a recent World Bank country report, according to which, “Azerbaijan will need to move from targets to implementation by devoting adequate resources to the respective institutions and improving accountability for results.”
The State Oil Company (SOCAR) thinks otherwise. Speaking at the Azerbaijan-Turkey Investment Forum in December 2023, Rovshan Najaf, the president of SOCAR, noted, “We aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The current scientific research will allow us to achieve these goals in a short time” within the scope of several green energy projects currently implemented in Azerbaijan.
But according to a recent World Bank country report, if Azerbaijan sticks to the business as usual (BAU) scenario, these goals won't be achieved. “In a BAU scenario, energy-related and industrial processes emissions would be only 28 percent lower than 1990 levels in 2030 and only 30 percent lower in 2050. To achieve the National Determined Contribution (NDC)+ targets, renewable energy would need to account for about 20 percent of power generation by 2030 and 40 percent by 2050 (versus 7 percent in 2022), and policies to support energy efficiency improvements across all end-use sectors should be adopted to achieve a 5 percent reduction in final energy demand by 2030 and 15 percent by 2050 compared to the BAU case.”
The underwater Black Sea cable also poses serious challenges. Feasibility studies that were conducted up until now took place before Russia invaded Ukraine, putting the safety of shipping in the Black Sea at risk.
Human rights and freedoms
Critical responses to the choice of Azerbaijan as a host country were swift to emerge.
Andrew Stroehlein, European Media and Editorial Director at Human Rights Watch condemned the decision, stating that “putting another rights-abusing petro-autocracy in charge of negotiations addressing the #ClimateCrisis is simply embarrassing.”
Hannah O’Sullivan, an environmental researcher, told OC Media that while fossil-fuel-reliant states needed to be a part of the negotiations, COP28 had demonstrated that asking them to host “doesn’t work.”
“Claiming you want the most ambitious language in an agreement whilst inviting thousands of fossil fuel lobbyists to the negotiations is incompatible with the climate action needed on a global level,” said O’Sullivan. “Azerbaijan hosting next year doesn’t provide much optimism for COP29 being any different, especially with only 11 months to prepare.”
In a speech at the COP28 conference in Dubai on Saturday, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, Mukhtar Babayev, said that Azerbaijan was “committed to contributing to global efforts” to mitigate climate change. Babayev also suggested that Azerbaijan would make “the liberated areas” a “carbon neutral zone” by 2050, referring to areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
He suggested that this would be done through the use of sustainable agriculture, environmentally friendly transport, smart cities, smart villages, and reforestation.
Azerbaijan’s relationship with environmental protesters has been complicated in the past year.
Beginning in December 2022, the government verbally and materially supported self-described eco-protesters who blocked the Lachin corridor, which connected Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, for nine months. Several independent Azerbaijani environmental organizations denied any connection to the protests.
However, protests in June against the reported pollution of lakes in Azerbaijan by mining companies were fiercely suppressed, with protesters beaten and arrested, journalists barred from covering the protests, and Soyudlu village remaining under police blockade almost six months later.
While arrests of protesters are commonplace in Azerbaijan, in recent months, at least ten independent journalists have been detained, with some warning of a crackdown on independent media.
Zhala Bayramova, a human rights lawyer and the daughter of detained politician and economist Gubad Ibadoghlu told OC Media that claims made by Azerbaijan’s government regarding both their efforts to combat climate change and their protection of human rights were “baseless.”
“When we look at political prisoners and the inhumane conditions that they are kept in, it is very evident that Azerbaijan’s claims are misleading,” said Bayramova. “My father was advocating for the open and accountable management of oil, gas, and mineral resources. He lost his job at the Economic State University for that.”
Bayramova added that Azerbaijan “does not even allow anybody to monitor climate change” or the effects of oil, gas, and mineral extraction.
“That shows itself in the arrest of environmental defenders like Nazim Bederbeyli, people being threatened with losing their jobs like my father, and also restrictions on people monitoring and filming oil and gas drills,” said Bayramova. She added that the government had recently cracked down on civil society and journalists, “so that their false and unbiased claims cannot be disproven.”