The Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) performed a
Caspian Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA). A TDA is a scientific and
technical assessment of the water-related environmental issues and problems,
their causes, and impacts, both environmental and economic, at national,
regional and global levels, taking into account the social-economic, political
and institutional systems within each riparian country.
The Caspian Sea major environmental issues include:
The Caspian Sea is rich in marine fish of commercial
value. The Sea is world famous due to the presence of a unique specie of
sturgeon which is of commercial value due to its black caviar and very tasty
meat (link to Biodiversity, Commercially valuable species, Fish). At its
peak, the Caspian supplied more than 80% of the world’s sturgeon stock. These
fish species, which are living fossils, are now on the verge of extinction due
to reduction of reproduction grounds, overfishing and water pollution by
pesticides, heavy metals and oil products. In recent years, sturgeon landings
have decreased dramatically: from 30,000 tons in 1985 to only 5,672 tons in
1995. A quota system, introduced together with a temporary ban on pelagic
fishing, does not appear to have been effective in reviving the dwindling fish
populations. The majority of sturgeon population is now supported artificially.
While fishing methods have clearly become more efficient and overfishing has
occurred, one of the most severe threat to the sturgeon and other anadromous
species is thought to arise from the construction of numerous dams on the Volga
and Kura rivers. These dams bar fish from their primary spawning areas. Due to
high levels of water pollution, sturgeons suffer from various diseases such as
hepatoxical hypoxiya (muscle blistering). Poaching has dramatically increased
during recent years and is thought to be among the main causes for the
population decline of the sturgeon.
Water-level fluctuations is a natural cyclic phenomena
which causes serious consequences for the region. Water-level fluctuations have
been known to displace thousands of people, destroy investments in industry and
infrastructure and cause severe pollution threats via inundation of coastal
The Volga River, the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the
European land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian’s freshwater inflow.
Its overall contribution to the Caspian may have diminished somewhat over the
years due to extensive dam construction. Its lower reaches are heavily
developed with numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological
pollutants. Although existing data is sparse and of questionable quality, there
is ample evidence to suggest that the Volga is one of the principal sources of
transboundary contaminants into the Caspian.
The Caspian basin is rich in commercially developable
hydrocarbon deposits. There are significant numbers of oil and gas producing
industries and new exploration activity is under way. Oil and oil products
generate constant traffic that has been estimated to total approximately 10,000
shipping movements annually. The magnitude of oil and gas extraction and
transport activity thus constitutes a risk to water quality. Underwater oil and
gas pipelines have been constructed or proposed, increasing potential
environmental threats. Commercial activity (fishing fleets, passenger, dry
goods and other cargo traffic) utilizes the Caspian en route to the Black Sea
or the Baltic via the Volga-Don canal system. This combined traffic has a
number of possible impacts on the Caspian's environmental integrity. For
example, the Volga-Don connection poses a threat in the form of introduction of
exotic species through ballast waters inter alia, and stringent measures
may be needed to prevent this threat.
Social and Economic Issues
1. An estimated human population of approximately 11
million is distributed around the Caspian shoreline. The main urban centres of
population are concentrated on the western and southern shores. Coastal
provinces in Iran and Azerbaijan, in particular, dominate the demography of the
2. The current annual Gross National Products (GNP) per
capita of the Caspian States are: Azerbaijan US$1240; Iran US$1255; Kazakhstan
US$2030; Russia US$3470; Turkmenistan US$1440.
3. Principal economic activities in the Caspian basin
include fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas production, and related downstream
industries. At their peak, revenues to the riparian countries from sturgeon,
including caviar, were as much as US$6 billion annually. Rice, vegetable
cultivation and cattle and sheep husbandry are the prime agricultural
activities in the catchment area. Oil exploration and production are increasing
along all shelves of the Caspian by all countries, and are already well established
in the Baku (onshore and offshore) and Tenghiz (onshore) regions. Oil
production is expected to increase dramatically during the next few decades.
1. An international legal framework for cooperation in
protection and sustainable use of the Caspian natural resources is seen as a
major, overarching component of regional cooperation at large. An urgent need
for a cooperative framework is evident from an ecological point of view, as
clearly identified by the littoral states.
2. UNEP has assisted the region in developing the basic
elements for a Framework Convention for the Protection and Sustainable
Management of the Caspian Environment and its Resources. The Framework
Convention is to include pollution prevention, reduction and control;
protection, preservation and restoration of the marine environment; procedures
to fulfill the obligations contained in a Framework Convention; and formation
of the Organization for the Protection of the Sustainable Management of the
Caspian Environment and its Resources. Work is proceeding to develop a final
draft Framework Convention for consideration by the Caspian states in January
1. The statutory, administrative and procedural
capabilities for multi-national regional environmental administration and
management in the Caspian are not uniformly strong. Some countries are only now
adopting laws for environmental management. Effective implementation of these
new standards remains a task for the future. Administrative structures may be
biased towards inspection, policing and enforcement rather than education,
information and compliance. Strong differences exist between states, with some
states (for instance, Iran) comparatively more advanced than others.
2. The Environmental Impact Assessment Process, or its
equivalent, is a legal requirement in the majority of the Caspian countries.
However, the manner in which it is applied, particularly the scoping process
and provisions for follow up, is not systematic between states.
3. In contrast, national capabilities in environmental
administration, research, monitoring and data collection are generally adequate
throughout the region and, in parts, strong. In the past, some research
institutions have operated on their own initiative rather than in response to
the needs of policy-makers, planners and managers. There is also a widespread
inability to market scientific expertise and to translate scientific results
for policy makers. The links between science and policy are presently weak and
should be strengthened by a regional program.
9. Legal Regulatory and Economic Instruments