Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Green Central Asia Conference

28.01.2020 - Speech

A colleague recently said to me that the real job of a foreign minister is “overcoming borders”.

First and foremost, he undoubtedly meant that literally. Every trip abroad begins with crossing a border. And it is borders that make foreign policy necessary in the first place.

But my colleague also wanted to make another point. He was also implying that foreign policy above all has to be intellectually flexible. Because that is the only way to overcome the borders in our minds, which still exist.

Perhaps that is more important than ever today.

The challenges of our times - digital transformation, globalisation, migration, climate change - have one thing in common: they know no borders. Purely national responses to these challenges are therefore no longer adequate.

Nowhere is this so evident as in the context of climate change. When sea levels rise, smog pollutes the atmosphere, entire countries dry out or are flooded, regions the size of German Länder burn, it is not the problem of a single country or region. It affects us all.

Where people’s livelihoods are under threat, conflicts are predestined. In many places, what began as an environmental challenge has long become a question of security and stability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan are particularly severely affected by climate change.

  • I am not just speaking here of the drying up of the Aral Sea.
  • Throughout the region, the threat of landslides, avalanches and floods has increased.
  • Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common - just think of the long drought in 2018 or the recent cold spell in Afghanistan, which claimed many lives. Many people had to leave their homes.

If climate change knows no borders, our response to it must likewise know no borders.

We won’t get very far with a “my country first” attitude. For ultimately, in view of our shared resources, that basically means everyone for themselves.

We have therefore made the security policy consequences of climate change, which have long been clear, a priority of our membership of the United Nations Security Council.

We are supported by a Group of Friends already comprising 48 states, including Afghanistan.

And I would be delighted if the countries of Central Asia would also join this Group of Friends on Climate and Security. Their regional experience would be a great asset to our work there.

After all, you are pursuing a common path with Green Central Asia. The idea of tackling climate-related security risks across borders at regional level makes your region a model for other countries.

The foundation for such cooperation has been in place for more than ten years - thanks to the Central Asia Water Initiative, the so-called Berlin Process.

That has transformed the issue of water from a sensitive and controversial topic and a catalyst for conflict into an issue for fostering cross-border understanding.

You all know better than I do how great the potential for conflict was just a few years ago. Just think of the conflicts over distribution between water-rich countries in the upper reaches of rivers and those in the lower reaches, which suffered from water shortages.

The summit in 2018, in which all Central Asian countries came together to consider how to cooperate more effectively in the area of regional water management, was therefore all the more remarkable.

Yet the developments in recent years have also shown that we need to broaden our focus. Water is just one aspect of the complex reality with which climate change confronts us.

It concerns glacier melting, desertification and the loss of arable land. And the impact of all these developments on food security and migration.

We also need to adapt to these consequences of climate change.

To be able to do more than simply react, we need to be swifter to identify risks, evaluate them and take the right action.

And we need to invest in boosting the resilience of the people affected.

That is the aim of Green Central Asia.

And I am delighted that we have competent supporters to assist us in this task: the experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is another clear principle behind Green Central Asia: forging connections. Connections between politics, business, science and civil society.

But also connections between Germany and the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. It is precisely this cooperation that is so important to us. We believe that your countries and your young populations have great potential. And we have a keen interest in long-term stability and growth throughout the region.

That is why we have campaigned so hard for the EU Central Asia Strategy. And I am particularly delighted that Josep Borrell is here today and highlighting the importance of this issue also for the EU by virtue of his presence.

We, as a member of the EU, have a daily sense of the importance of regional integration. That is why we also want to help Central Asia to more clearly define and defend its interests as a region.

It is, of course, no coincidence that Afghanistan is also here today.

Your countries are separated by borders, also as a result of the political upheavals of the past years and decades. However, I firmly believe that what connects them is far greater than what separates them:

  • a cultural and historical heritage reaching back a long way,
  • shared water resources,
  • and of course the challenges of climate change.

That is why it is so important to us that cooperation between the Central Asian states and Afghanistan in the areas of infrastructure, business and education has developed in recent years.

We will continue to support these developments, for we are pursuing the same goals: security and stability in and around Afghanistan and sustainable economic development in the region. To sum up, we want to create the conditions for peace and prosperity.

That's why we launched the EU-Asia connectivity strategy just over one year ago. Its aim is to improve the development of routes, connections and networks across the continent. On the basis of common rules and above all with a focus on sustainability.

Whether through a project like the green ports in the Caspian Sea region or by expanding digital networks.

The closer we and the people in your regions are connected with one another, the more scope we will have to find common solutions.

Central Asia plays a central role, if not the central role, in this, not only because of its name but also due to its location between Europe, Russia, China and southern Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since I have just been talking about sustainability, I consider it particularly important in this context to emphasise the following: Today’s conference must not be just a flash in the pan.

For that reason, it is anchored in a process that we want to continue to develop in cooperation with you. This is what we want to talk about today. The next step has already been decided: the second Berlin Climate and Security Conference on 15 and 16 June here in Berlin, to which I extend to you a warm invitation.

Yet ultimately, our initiative will not have to be judged on the number of international conferences, but on what we succeed in implementing together, across borders. The fact that you have all come here today shows me that this is also your goal.

I think that is what my foreign minister colleague meant when he spoke about how foreign policy can overcome borders.

Thank you very much for being here with us today and for your readiness to get involved in this.

And now, Josep, the floor is yours!

Thank you.


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