15 November 2003

Clash of interests in caspian

NATIONS bordering the Caspian Sea last week signed a historic agreement to protect the largest inland body of water in the world from environmental degradation caused by industry, overfishing and oil leaks. On the same day, the World Bank announced it would help fund a new oil pipeline in the region and develop a nearby oilfield.

The bank announced its decision hours before Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan met in Tehran to sign their first legally binding treaty, known as the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the agreement, saying the governments were "sending a message to their people and to the world that multilateral cooperation for sustainable development is not only essential, but possible".

For its part, the World Bank decided to cooperate with oil giant BP’s plans to build a 1760-kilometre pipeline, the world’s longest, that will snake through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Ceyhan in Turkey. The bank will put up $125 million for the $3.6 billion project, which will pump 1 million barrels of crude oil a day to tankers in the Mediterranean Sea. The bank is also funding the development of the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli oilfield off Azerbaijan.

Shahbaz Mavaddat of the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, says that investors have listened to environmental groups, and that local people welcome the projects, which will bring billions of dollars to the region. From issue 2421 of New Scientist magazine, 15 November 2003, page 5

See online : New Scientist

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