Ladies and Gentlemen!
It is an exceptional honour for me to address this audience, particularly in this magnificent building, where parliamentary traditions were born. Before I commence my speech, I would like to express my special gratitude to Lord Sheikh of Cornhill for his kind invitation and to the EcoMuslim organization and its founder-director Omar Faruk for organizing this event.
In my speech today I would like to reflect on issues relating to the environment in the South Caucasus and also talk about our organization’s activities and plans for the future.
IDEA – the International Dialogue for Environmental Action was founded in July 2011 and within a very short time we have managed to expand our network across the region. Our cooperation with various youth environmental organizations and movements was reinforced in November of last year, when 85 representatives from 35 countries across the globe gathered together in Gabala, Azerbaijan, to participate in the International Camp of Young Environmentalists, organized by IDEA. The Gabala Declaration, drafted by the young participants, called for individual responsibility, greater understanding, personal commitment and a right to a safe and carbon-free future. I was happy to be a part of this initiative, to see the young generation take the lead in what is considered to be the most pressing challenge of the 21st century.
IDEA is committed to promoting dialogue, education, leadership and cooperation among youth not only in Azerbaijan, but around the globe. We have established partnerships with young environmentalist groups from Argentina to South Korea within a year.
IDEA has also signed a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Development Program to mobilize Azerbaijani Youth for Action in preparation for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in June 2012.
A few months ago, we launched a campaign under the slogan – “Young tree for Young Spirit” – according to which, we intend to plant 300,000 trees in 2012 in Azerbaijan.
During renovation works at the Maiden Tower – a beautiful 12th century cultural monument in the old city in Baku - we came across numerous bird nests. Flocks of swifts had built approximately 200 nests on the monument. In order to ensure their safety, IDEA members started a new project, creating alternative nesting sites for these birds in this area, while the renovation works continue on the Maiden Tower. Alongside this project, we have also started to build 300 bird-houses in and around Baku. We also supported the construction of an animal shelter for abandoned cats and dogs.
One of the most important initiatives we put forward was a campaign to protect and resettle the Azerbaijani gazelles in their natural habitat. We receive information on the movements of gazelles, whose special collars have been installed with sensors that transmit signals about their location several times a day.
We have also carried out a number of small and large-scale projects involving awareness-raising social ad campaigns, essay competitions, round-table discussions, university debates and talk-shows. Yet much remains to be done.
We believe that environmental awareness is a matter that needs to be explained and taught from childhood. Learning to live sustainably, love of nature and the importance of its protection have to be mastered in elementary and middle school class rooms. Young children should understand the necessity of environmental harmony, learn how nature sustains life, and recognize the implications of their actions on their surroundings from early ages. Teachers are in a prime position to be able to nurture the knowledge, skills, and values essential to sustainable living at every grade level. The main direction of my campaign’s activities is the acknowledgement of the role of early education in ensuring peoples’ environmental-friendly behavior and actions.
The South Caucasus is a unique region, rich in landscape, bio- and agro-diversity, and one of the twelve centers of the world's biodiversity. The region ranges from subtropical rainy forests to the high peaks of the Greater Caucasus, with glaciers and snow caps, to the steppes and semi-deserts of the lowland east. Almost every climatic zone is represented in the South Caucasus. For instance, Azerbaijan exhibits 9 out of 11 possible climatic zones. The Caucasus region is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which must be considered in the planning of almost any economic activity. The negative impacts of climate change may affect every sphere of economic development from agriculture to tourism, and in particular the water sector.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union a number of environmental problems surfaced in the Caucasus countries that pose severe ecological, public health, and economic threats to the region. The biodiversity of the region is severely threatened by poaching, overgrazing, logging and uncontrolled urban development. All countries in the region have ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and other relevant international agreements. By doing this, they have verified their commitment to the conservation of nature and have undertaken relevant responsibilities. However, the frozen and ongoing conflicts in the region have made a very negative impact on the ecosystem. The deliberate burning of forests in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan puts the endangered species of wild flora and fauna under threat. Rare animals like the Caucasian Leopard are facing the risk of extinction.
In all three countries of the South Caucasus, numerous environmental hazards combine with sites of severe environmental degradation. Sources of environmental risks for the population are to be seen not only in deforestation, unsustainable use of natural resources, water pollution and natural disasters but also in industrial production, nuclear and radioactive waste. The construction of a new nuclear unit on the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant site, near Metsamor Town threatens the environmental security of the region. Azerbaijan is the only South Caucasus country that has ratified The UNECE Water Convention. The lack of willingness for cooperation in addressing the problems of trans-boundary water resources has led to pollution of surface and groundwater resources, reduction of river flows and water shortage.
With all these ecological hazards facing the region, cooperation among the young members of society becomes a vital element in environmental sustainability. These risks further validate the fact that environmental challenges need to be addressed through the further strengthening of international and environmental governance.
I am very passionate about the preservation of the environment and the involvement of young people. I want the coming generation to be raised in harmony with their environment, to be aware of ecological mismanagement and open to cooperation and dialogue. My country has huge potential both in terms of its relatively young population and its unique biodiversity and resources. We have a goal to eliminate environmental problems inherited from the past by using brand new technologies. We aim to work not only in our country but in the whole region and tap into other spheres such as education, economy, agriculture, eco-tourism, energy, technology, youth and health.
Azerbaijan attaches high importance to the issues of the transformation of the country’s entire economy to the principles of sustainable development, while focusing on the protection of the environment and reduction in the effects of climate change. The GDP of Azerbaijan has increased tenfold during the last ten years. Investments in environmental protection are increasing. Substantial investments are being made to carry out large-scale drinking and sewage water management projects. A large, modern rehabilitation center for wild animals will soon begin construction. The Caspian Sea has benefitted from the re-stocking of over 5 billion fingerlings, including sturgeon, over the last 10 years, to increase marine bio-resources. A modern “waste to energy” plant is being constructed in the country, which will mark a qualitative change in waste management. Azerbaijan has already completed the construction of its first solar panel factory, which is also the first solar battery producer plant in the South Caucasus.
All this does not mean that everything has reached its full potential. Many measures remain to be taken, many lessons to be learned. What motivates me is to see how every young member of IDEA and society in general is eager to claim personal responsibility and take action. IDEA will continue to be a source of inspiration for those who want to lead by example. I am confident that in the next few years we will be able to create an effective environmental community in the region and make a real change.
Azerbaijan, like every other country, should be protected. It is beautiful in every sense of the word. Every tourist coming to the country becomes mesmerised by the beauty of its nature, the hospitality of its people and the richness of its culture. Its ancient history and unique traditions cannot leave anyone indifferent.
How proud I am to be born in a country, which became the first parliamentary democracy in the East, the first Muslim state to adopt progressive western values and the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men in 1918. Azerbaijan staged the first opera, the first musical comedy, the first western style theatre and the first ballet in the East. It also built the first women’s high school in the Muslim world. It is a land of “firsts” and has always been known for its tolerance, mixture of cultures, traditions and religions. It is the quintessential borderland: between Europe and Asia, East and West….”
I can keep talking about the charms of Azerbaijan for hours, but as an old proverb says: “Better to see something once than hear about it a hundred times.” I invite all of you to visit Azerbaijan and to see for yourself and feel the potential of this young country in the eyes and the spirit of its promising young population.
Thank you for this great opportunity and I look forward to welcoming you in Baku soon.