Politics of Climate Change in Armenia: Commitments and Expectations from the International Climate Negotiations
Armenia has already reported evidence of climate change, having documented a 1.1oC increase in the average summer temperature and a 10% reduction in average precipitation over the past 80 years. According to future climate change projections, changes to temperature and precipitation levels will have significant negative impacts on agriculture, water resources and health.
Armenia is responsible for only 0.017 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but has been an active participant in the global climate dialogue. The country ratified the Kyoto Protocol in December 2002 as a non-Annex B Party and has since completed its third National Communication on Climate Change. The Government of Armenia is committed to climate change adaptation. Armenia’s official position has always been a readiness to commit to climate change mitigation efforts, if respective support becomes available from developed countries.
The Inter-agency Council on Climate Change meeting on January 19, 2015 discussed the COP20 decisions as well as the Lima Call. The Armenian government amended Decree #1594 to set a clear mandate for responsibility and a roadmap for the preparation of the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). A dedicated working group with clear responsibility for INDC preparation was established, and the INDC was completed in October 2015.
Moreover, energy security and energy independence are core pillars of Armenia’s national security strategy. As the country has no indigenous fossil fuel resources, the importance of increasing the usage share of renewable energy as well as extension of the operable lifetime of the existing nuclear power plant (NPP) and its replacement with a new NPP by 2027 are stated in the Energy Strategy Programme. Even in its Initial National Communication (1998) the Republic of Armenia stated its readiness to take voluntary obligations to limit its GHG emissions should adequate financial and technological support be available. This position has not changed. Climate finance in the form of grants, as well as soft finance, is critical for reversing the growing rate of GHG emissions as economic growth and structural changes in energy generation unavoidably lead to growing GHG emissions in the coming years. Armenia has a successful track record of using the Kyoto Protocol CDM mechanism and is considering whether market mechanisms must be made part of its climate policy, as they can ensure private capital injections.
However, adaptation is vital for Armenia as a mountainous country with fragile ecosystems. The water shortage predicted by various climate scenarios was factually apparent in the years 2014 and 2015, when the MNP was forced to allow the additional discharge of water from Lake Sevan for irrigation purposes. Additionally, in 2015 the MNP sealed several artesian wells and water use permits were terminated. Armenia currently has requested international assistance for building or refurbishing existing water reservoirs in light of an approximately 10 percent drop in average precipitation and the increased average temperature.
The agriculture sector of Armenia is responsible for approximately 20 percent of GDP and another 10 percent is accounted for by the processing industry. This means that any climatic extremes and variability make the national economy vulnerable. Coping with losses and damage, as well as the mechanisms for compensation such as introducing agriculture insurance, are very important for reducing the negative impacts of climate change.
The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme is necessary for addressing growing pressure on forest resources due to increasing prices for energy carriers. While already damaged since the energy crisis of the 1990s, Armenia’s forests have also been damaged by increased occurrences of wild fires and pest outbreaks. The REDD scheme introduction can support the forest programme’s ambitious stated goal of doubling forest cover by 2050.
As a non-Annex I developing country currently recovering from deep economic crisis and energy blockage, Armenia’s main challenge is the proper development of development milestones and trends for making proper assessment of long-term targets. However there are strong links between sustainable development and climate change policy:
- Energy Sector – energy security policy and GHG mitigation objectives have strong complementarity, a reason to provide full support for the development of renewable energy and the promotion of energy efficiency;
- Industry – revitalizing the old scale of industrial potential lacks real prospects due to Armenia’s limited transportation gateways as a landlocked country. As a result, economic policy is more oriented toward less-energy intensive sectors; and
- Forestry –forest cover and the forest density was highly affected in the years of energy crisis and, currently, pressures on forests are continuing due to a poverty rate of 36 percent and constantly increasing energy prices. However, forest protection and reforestation are included in the sectoral policy, and the importance of forests as carbon sinks is recognized and strongly advocated for by civil society organizations.
Armenia, like many developing countries, is expecting a decision from Paris COP 21 on a new legal document which will define the proper policies for limitation of GHG emissions. In addition, it will define a transparent system for monitoring the implementation of the contributions of Parties, including capacity building, technology transfer and finance for implementation of the conditional targets on emissions mitigation. In its INDC, Armenia chose to link its GHG emissions reduction contribution target to 1990 per-capita emission levels. This approach is considered fair as it is not a floating target and can provide a predictable projection of total global emissions by 2030. Armenia considers that climate mitigation and adaptation policy must be based on an ecosystem approach.
Armenia is a member of the Eastern European regional group and is in the same negotiating block with Central Asia, the Caucasus, Moldova and other like-minded parties. The formation of negotiating blocks is related to the need to advocate for non-Annex I country (developing nation) needs. Armenia is also a member of the Mountain Partnership as a country with fragile mountainous ecosystems. Through this block, Armenia is attempting to attract attention to the importance of consideration for the specific needs of mountainous countries.
The Ministry of Nature Protection (MNP) has taken an inclusive, participatory approach to stakeholder involvement in the country’s INDC preparation process – the decision making process included multiple sessions with experts in the field as well as civil society organizations; interim drafts were circulated for review and comment through a wide network of organizations. The MNP organized meetings with the mayors of 10 cities which are signatories to the EC Covenant of Mayors (CoM) to explain and discuss the INDC.
Nonetheless, the general public and broader sector of public organizations not directly involved in climate change negotiations have limited awareness of the current state of climate change politics, in particular the targets committed to by the Armenian government within scope of UNFCCC.
During round table discussions the stakeholders expressed the opinion that binding obligations can ensure proper mechanisms for supporting Armenia’s ambitious mitigation targets/contributions; the REDD+ project will begin in Armenia and create positive feedback on current developments under the Convention. There is also a perception among stakeholders that, similar to the CDM experience, Armenia can benefit from carbon market mechanisms.
Armenia’s economy has already begun to move towards non-energy intensive sectors, i.e. developing the service industry. At the same time, the low level of technological equipment enrollment in micro, small and medium enterprises as well as growth in the agricultural sector contribute to reduction of the energy intensity of the economy, which is largely due to lack of investments. Due to rising energy prices and growing energy demand, which is not matched by existing power generation capacities, Armenia should have stronger political will to continue improving the efficiency of energy use in all sectors of the economy. This includes developing large- and small-scale renewable energy applications. The existing legislation on Energy Saving and Renewable energy, the National Program on Energy Saving and Renewable Energy, as well as the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan and the Scaling up Renewable Energy Program, are all aimed at reducing the country’s energy footprint, helping manage growing energy demand, enhance Armenia’s energy security, and spurring the sustainable development of the economy.
 The core demand is the importance of fair participation of the non-Annex I Parties to the Convention from Eastern Europe in the Convention bodies and mechanisms. The current level of negotiations is complicated and it is not easy for a country with a limited number of delegates to follow all parallel technical discussions.