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Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline – An ‘apple of discord’ between Azerbaijan and Russia?

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A broad range of strategic, economic and cultural ties between Azerbaijan and Russia create an illusion of quite stable bilateral relations between the states. Nevertheless, considering the recent geopolitical developments in the South Caucasus after the Second Karabakh war and the growing role of Azerbaijan as both producer and transit hub for natural resources, one can assume that there is a prospect of growing uncertainties that may or already generate tensions. These tensions can be observed in the context of energy diplomacy, used as a strategic tool by both states to gain access to, and consolidate within external markets. This article summarizes the potential and existential rivalry perspectives between Azerbaijan and Russia in terms of integration to the EU energy market via their gas pipelines, particularly cleavages over the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.

European Energy Union: Tendencies in the gas market

The concept of the ‘energy union’ has been developed during the presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker and extends to five dimensions. The following two dimensions are relevant in the context of relations with external markets: 1. Security, solidarity and trust; and 2. Energy efficiency. The former promotes cooperation between EU member states implying energy security and diversification of the energy sources. The latter, on the other hand, emphasizes the need to reduce dependency on imports and stimulate local growth in energy sectors. Both strategies consider a long-term perspective aimed at creating an independent and self-sufficient energy market within the framework of environmental standards. To determine whether these strategies managed to diversify and simultaneously ensure independence from external actors in the European gas market, let us recall the statistical data of imports and local gas production in the EU over the last years.

Tendencies in the EU energy market over the last couple of years, particularly in the sector of gas, reveal its high dependence on imports from abroad. Although the net gas imports fell by 7 per cent in 2020 amounting to 81 bcm, the overall EU production of gas fell by almost 23 per cent (16 bcm). According to the Quarterly Report of the Union, the local gas production in the first quarter of 2021 reached the second-lowest production rate over the last decade, falling by 11 per cent respectively. In this regard, the European internal energy market needs a sustainable supply of natural gas resources, mostly, for residential heating needs. Currently, about 44% of extra EU net gas imports are piped via Russian pipelines, 12% through Algeria, and 1,2% through TAP pipeline. Although import indicators suggest that Russia holds the dominant position in supplying the EU energy needs, the ever-growing gas supplies from Azerbaijan cause concerns on the part of Russian stakeholders. Accordingly, in 2020, Gazprom’s supplies to the Turkish market decreased by 72% compared to March 2019, the Russian RBK reports. Could the further steps of the official Baku on the European energy front challenge positions of the Russian energy giant Gazprom? To answer this question, it is necessary to briefly present the already launched and planned projects in which Azerbaijan is directly involved.

Azerbaijan’s ‘energy diplomacy’ and Russia’s counterstrategy

In 2020 South Gas Corridor (SGC) project officially started operating, connecting three sub-pipeline routes: South Caucasus Pipeline Expansion (SCPX), the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The project aims to ensure commercial gas delivery from Shah Deniz field to Turkey, continuing to European markets and finally landing in Southern Italy (Melendugno). The initiative was supported by numerous financial institutions and stakeholders from Asia and Europe such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). According to the estimates, the current gas supply via the corridor is amounting to 10 billion bcm.

At the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the SGC Advisory Council, the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev noted the necessity of strengthening bilateral as well as multilateral energy relations and mentioned the Memorandum of understanding between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan: […] That will also be very helpful for future energy cooperation in the Caspian Sea and beyond”. President Aliyev has also emphasized that Azerbaijan already has become a reliable transit of energy resources from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. In this regard, the recent intensification of talks upon the realization of the Trans-Caspian Gas pipeline project is not surprising.

Within the framework of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project, natural gas will be delivered from the port of Turkmenbashi via the pipeline to the Sangachal terminal through the Caspian Sea with an annual capacity of 32 billion bcm. However, despite numerous attempts to bring the issue to the agenda both by the Western partners (EU and the United States) and Azerbaijan, there have been no significant steps towards the implementation of the project. The reason for the constant extension of negotiations over the last two decades may be both the reliability of the capabilities of the Turkmen natural gas resource pool, and external intervention in the negotiation process and attempts to discredit it by Russia and Iran.

Firstly, the credibility of the Turkmen gas supply capacity is quite questionable.  After the Central Asia-China gas pipeline opened in December 2009, Turkmenistan has gradually become the biggest gas supplier to the Chinese energy market in Central Asia. Currently, Turkmenistan covers nearly 60% of China’s pipeline gas imports, whereas over 90% of Turkmenistan’s overall exports are gas exports to the Chinese energy market. Therefore the sufficiency of Turkmenistan’s gas reserves for the Trans-Caspian pipeline is still a matter of discussion. The official Ashgabat in the meantime refrains from specifying details on its capabilities.

Another challenge is posed by the joint attempts of Russia and Iran, circumvented by the pipelines, to prevent the realization of the initiative, to protect their local energy markets. Additionally, the Kremlin needs to eliminate any potential external supplier of natural pipeline gas to the EU, to sustain the status quo. Turkmenistan has already become the biggest gas supply hub in Central Asia and the prospect of its expansion towards Europe poses a strategic challenge to Russia.

“Along with the new Iranian gas pipeline, the Chinese export route gave Turkmenistan strong leverage that strengthened its ability to bargain with Russia. However, these export routes do not hurt Russian interests that much, since Moscow’s main objective at the moment is to keep Turkmen gas away from the lucrative European energy market”. (Vasánczki 2011).

Both Russia and Iran refer to environmental damage the pipeline could cause in the Caspian Sea, and recall the so-called Tehran Convention (the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea). However, the experience with the SGC and other pipeline projects in the region suggest no environmental crisis to be expected. On the other hand, there are allegations regarding the long-disputed Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Moscow and Tehran are aligned in their concerns about the extraction and transportation of energy resources and believe that such issues should be resolved within the framework of five Caspian states.

According to Marco Marsili, the Russian energy strategy is inclined in a “Grand Strategy” aimed at re-establishing a sphere of influence in the area previously controlled by the USSR. As he further notes in his article: “If the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline comes to fruition, then it will also further enhance Azerbaijan’s status as both a producer and transit hub. Additionally, the pipeline will diminish Moscow’s influence in the region and circumvent both Russia and Iran. This is why Moscow is heavily opposing the project.”

When it comes to the European front Russian strategy faces various burdens. On the eve of the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Russian-European relations are in a state of long-term crisis. The persecution and assassinations of political dissidents, the imprisonment of the head of the opposition movement Alexei Navalny, support for the authoritarian regimes of Lukashenko and Assad, as well as multiple attempts to interfere in elections within the EU, reduce the level of trust between the Kremlin and the West on energy security too. Furthermore, gas supply issues between Russia and Ukraine in 2006 and 2009 that caused the European energy crisis, exacerbated the situation and gave a signal to the EU to diversify its gas supplies.

Nord Stream 2 is a controversial 9.5 billion euros worth gas pipeline that will annually supply the EU with 55 bcm. According to sceptics, the new pipeline not only endangers the energy security of the EU, putting it in a dependent position from Gazprom but also causes dissatisfaction in Eastern European countries (in particular Ukraine). Germany and the US have already issued a joint statement in July to support Ukraine, European energy security and climate protection. Azerbaijan, in turn, is ready to provide the diversification tool needed and security of natural gas delivery to the European market without polarizing the European community on geopolitical issues.

Opportunities for Azerbaijan in the new era in South Caucasus geopolitics

After the second Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the power constellations in South Caucasus have drastically changed in almost 44 days. Azerbaijan has restored its territorial integrity and opened up new opportunities for economic growth, and increased mobility via the development of transport hubs and infrastructure rehabilitation projects. At the same time, Russia has deployed its peacekeeping contingent in the region, ‘formally’ securing its status as a regional power. Despite this, Azerbaijan, after almost three decades being focused on resolution of devastating conflict, can now set new forign policy priorities to provide energy security and strengthen its cooperation with the EU.

Conclusion

With the EU Strategy on Central Asia adopted in May 2019 and the intensification of negotiations between the Central Asian countries with the EU and with the Western hemisphere as a whole, there is a need for such projects as the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline. In these circumstances, Azerbaijan can play the role of a mediator both in the negotiation process and directly participate in the implementation of the project. Taking this into account, Russia fears the loss of its role as a hegemon both in its relations with Central Asia and within the South Caucasus. Also economically, it is in Russia’s interests to keep the monopoly in the hands of its state-owned companies to strengthen the leverage on the EU in cases of geopolitical collisions.

In any case, the growing competition on the EU energy market between the two former Soviet states could significantly diminish the sense of mutual reliability between them.

Rafael Ibadov is a research intern at the Topchubashov Center in Baku, covering the German policies towards the Eastern Partnership region. He is also a political sciences student at the Free University of Berlin (FU Berlin). Before his academic studies in Germany, he studied International Relations at Baku State University for a year. His research areas include the Political System of Germany, European Integration and International Political Economy.

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Energy transition is a global challenge that needs an urgent global response

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COP26 showed that green energy is not yet appealing enough for the world to reach a consensus on coal phase-out. The priority now should be creating affordable and viable alternatives 

Many were hoping that COP26 would be the moment the world agreed to phase out coal. Instead, we received a much-needed reality check when the pledge to “phase out” coal was weakened to “phase down”. 

 This change was reportedly pushed by India and China whose economies are still largely reliant on coal. The decision proved that the world is not yet ready to live without the most polluting fossil fuels. 

 This is an enormous problem. Coal is the planet’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but also a major source of energy, producing over one-third of global electricity generation. Furthermore, global coal-fired electricity generation could reach an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

 Given the continued demand for coal, especially in the emerging markets, we need to accelerate the use of alternative energy sources, but also ensure their equal distribution around the world.

 There are a number of steps policymakers and business leaders are taking to tackle this challenge, but all of them need to be accelerated if we are to incentivise as rapid shift away from coal as the world needs. 

 The first action to be stepped up is public and private investment in renewable energy. This investment can help on three fronts: improve efficiency and increase output of existing technologies, and help develop new technologies. For green alternatives to coal to become more economically viable, especially, for poorer countries, we need more supply and lower costs.

 There are some reasons to be hopeful. During COP26 more than 450 firms representing a ground-breaking $130 trillion of assets pledged investment to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement. 

 The benefits of existing investment are also becoming clearer. Global hydrogen initiatives, for example, are accelerating rapidly, and if investment is kept up, the Hydrogen Council expects it to become a competitive low-carbon solution in long haul trucking, shipping, and steel production.

 However, the challenge remains enormous. The IEA warned in October 2021 that investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of this decade to effectively combat climate change. Momentum must be kept up.

 This is especially important for countries like India where coal is arguably the main driver for the country’s economic growth and supports “as many as 10-15 million people … through ancillary employment and social programs near the mines”, according to Brookings Institute.  

This leads us to the second step which must be accelerated: support for developing countries to incentivise energy transition in a way which does not compromise their growth. 

Again, there is activity on this front, but it is insufficient. Twelve years ago, richer countries pledged to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the financial assistance failed to reach $80 billion in 2019, and likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they will reach the promised amount by 2023. If anything, they should aim to reach it sooner.

There are huge structural costs in adapting electricity grids to be powered at a large scale by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Businesses will also need to adapt and millions of employees across the world will need to be re-skilled. To incentivise making these difficult but necessary changes, developing countries should be provided with the financial support promised them over a decade ago.

The third step to be developed further is regulation. Only governments are in a position to pass legislation which encourages a faster energy transition. To take just one example, the European Commission’s Green Deal, proposes introduction of new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, incentivising the electrification of vehicles. 

This kind of simple, direct legislation can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and encourage industry to tackle climate change.

Widespread legislative change won’t be straightforward. Governments should closely involve industry in the consultative process to ensure changes drive innovation rather than add unnecessary bureaucracy, which has already delayed development of renewable assets in countries including Germany and Italy. Still, regardless of the challenges, stronger regulation will be key to turning corporate and sovereign pledges into concrete achievements. 

COP26 showed that we are not ready as a globe to phase out coal. The priority for the global leaders must now be to do everything they can to drive the shift towards green energy and reach the global consensus needed to save our planet.

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Pakistan–Russia Gas Stream: Opportunities and Risks of New Flagship Energy Project

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source: twitter

Russia’s Yekaterinburg hosted the 7th meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on November 24–26, 2021. Chaired by Omar Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s Minister for Economic Affairs, and Nikolai Shulginov, Russia’s Minister of Energy, the meeting was attended by around 70 policy makers, heads of key industrial companies and businessmen from both sides, marking a significant change in the bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad.

Three pillars of bilateral relations

Among the most important questions raised by the Commission were collaboration in trade, investment and the energy sector.

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the Russian-Pakistani trade turnover increased in 2020 by 45.8% compared to 2019, totaling 789.8 million U.S. dollars. Yet, there is still huge potential for increasing the trade volume for the two countries, including textiles and agricultural products of Pakistan and Russian products of machinery, technical expertise as well as transfer of knowledge and R&D.

Another prospective project discussed at the intergovernmental level is initiating a common trade corridor between Russia, the Central Asia and Pakistan. Based on the One-Belt-One-Road concept, launched by China, the Pakistan Road project is supposed to create a free flow of goods between Russia and Pakistan through building necessary economic and transport infrastructure, including railway construction and special customs conditions. During the Commission meeting, both countries expressed their intention to collaborate on renewal of the railway machines fleet and facilities in Pakistan, including supplies of mechanized track maintenance and renewal machines; supplies of 50 shunting (2400HP or less) and 100 mainline (over 3000HP) diesel locomotives; joint R&D of the technical and economic feasibility of locomotives production based in the Locomotive Factory Risalpur and other. The proposed contractors of the project might be the Russian Sinara Transport Machines, Uralvagonzavod JSC that stand ready to supply Pakistan Railway with freight wagons, locomotives and passenger coaches. In order to engage import and export activities between Russian and Pakistani businessmen, the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum with Ural Chamber of Commerce and Industry, marking a new step in bilateral relations. Similar memorandums have already been signed with other Chambers of Commerce in Russian regions.

— Today, the ties between Russia and Pakistan are objectively strengthening in all areas including economic, political and military collaboration. But we, as businessmen, are primarily interested in the development of trade relations and new transit corridors for export-import activities. For example, the prospective pathways of the Pakistan-Central Asia-Russia trade and economic corridor project are now being actively discussed at the intergovernmental level, — said Mohsin Sheikh, Director of the Pakistan Russia Business Council of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. — For Islamabad, this issue is one of the most important. Based on a similar experience of trade with China, we see great prospects for this direction. That is why representatives of Pakistan’s government, customs officers, diplomats and businessmen gathered in Yekaterinburg today.

However, the flagship project of the new era of the Pakistan-Russia relations is likely to be the Pakistan Gas Stream. Previously known as the North-South Gas Pipeline, this mega-project (1,100 kilometers in length) is expected to cost up to USD 2,5 billion and is claimed to be highly beneficial for Pakistan. Being a net importer of energy, Pakistan will be able to develop and integrate new sources of natural gas and transport it to the densely populated industrialized north. At the same time, the project will enable Pakistan—whose main industries are still dependent on the coal consumption—to take a major step forward gradually replacing coal with relatively more ecologically sustainable natural gas. To enable this significant development in the Pakistan’s energy sector, Moscow and Islamabad have made preliminary agreements to carry on the research of Pakistan’s mineral resource sector including copper, gold, iron, lead and zinc ores of Baluchistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab Provinces.

A lot opportunities but a lot more risks?

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipe Project undoubtedly opens major investment opportunities for Pakistan. Among them are establishment of new refineries; the launch of virtual LNG pipelines; building of LNG onshore storages of LNG; investing in strategic oil and gas storages. Yet, it seems that Pakistan is likely to win more from the Project than Russia. And here’s why. The current version of the agreement signed by Moscow and Islamabad has been essentially reworked. According to it, Russia will likely to receive only 26 percent in the project stake instead of 85 percent as it was previously planned, while the Pakistani side will retain a controlling stake (74 percent) in the project.

Another stranding factor for Russia is although Moscow will be entitled to provide all the necessary facilities and equipment for the building of the pipeline, the entire construction process will be supervised by an independent Pakistani-based company, which will substantially boost Pakistan’s influence at each development. Finally, the vast bulk of the gas transported via the pipeline will likely come from Qatar, which will further strengthen Qatar’s role in the Pakistani energy sector.

Big strategy but safety first

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline will surely become an important strategic tool for Russia to reactivate the South Asian vector of its foreign policy. Even though the project’s aim is not to gain a fast investment return and economic benefits, it follows significant strategic goals for both countries. As Russia-India political and economic relations are cooling down, Moscow is likely to boost ties with Pakistan, including cooperation in economy, military, safety and potentially nuclear energy, that was highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during visit to Islamabad earlier this year. Such an expansion of relations with Pakistan will allow Russia to gain a more solid foothold in the South Asian part of China’s BRI, thus opening up a range of new lucrative opportunities for Moscow.

Apart from its economic and political aspects, the Pakistan Stream Project also has clear geopolitical implications. It marks Russia’s growing influence in South Asia and points to some remarkable transformations that are currently taking place in this region. The ongoing geopolitical game within the India-Russia-Pakistan triangle is yet less favorable for New Delhi much because of the Pakistan Stream Project. Even though the project is not directly aimed to jeopardize the India’s role in the region, it is considered the first dangerous signal for New Delhi. For instance, the International “Extended troika” Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Moscow last spring united representatives from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan but left India aside (even though the latter has important strategic interests in Afghanistan).

With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Moscow has become literally the only warden of Central Asia’s security. As Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the Central Asia, the main defensive buffer in the South for Moscow, the recent decision of Vladimir Putin to equip its military base in Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, seems to be just on time. Obviously, Islamabad that faces major risks amidst the Afghanistan crisis sees Moscow as a prospective strategic partner who will help Imran Khan strengthen the Pakistani efforts in fighting the terrorism threat.

From our partner RIAC

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How wind power is transforming communities in Viet Nam

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In two provinces of Viet Nam, a quiet transformation is taking place, driven by the power of renewable energy.

Thien Nghiep Commune, a few hundred kilometres from Ho Chi Min City, is a community of just over 6,000 people – where for years, people relied largely on farming, fishing and seasonal labour to make ends meet.

Now, thanks to a wind farm backed by the Seed Capital Assistance Facility (SCAF) – a multi-donor trust fund, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – people in the Thien Nghiep Commune are accessing new jobs, infrastructure and – soon – cheap, clean energy. The 40MW Dai Phong project, one of two wind farms run by SCAF partner company the Blue Circle, has brought new hope to the community.

For the 759 million people in the world who lack access to electricity, the introduction of clean energy solutions can bring improved healthcare, better education and affordable broadband, creating new jobs, livelihoods and sustainable economic value to reduce poverty.

“It’s not only about the technology and the big spinning wheel for me. It’s more about making investment decisions for the planet and at the same time not compromising on the necessity that we call electricity,” said Nguyen Thi Hoai Thuong, who works as a community liaison. “The interesting part is I work for the project, but I actually work for the community and with the community.”

While the wind farm is not yet online, a focus on local hiring and paying fair prices for land has already made a big difference to the community.

“I used the money from the land sale to the Dai Phong project to repair my house and invest in my cattle. Currently, my life is stable and I have not encountered any difficulties since selling the land,” said Ms. Le Thi Doan.

Powering change

The energy sector accounts for approximately 75 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). UNEP research shows that these need to be reduced dramatically and eventually eliminated to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Renewable energy, in all its forms, is one of humanity’s greatest assets in the fight to limit climate change. Capacity across the globe continues to grow every year, lowering both GHGs and air pollution, but the pace of action must accelerate to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century.

“To boost growth in renewables, however, companies need to access finance,” said Rakesh  Shejwal, a Programme Management Officer at SCAF. “This is where SCAF comes in. SCAF works through private equity funds and development companies to mobilize early-stage investment low-carbon projects in developing countries.”

The 176 projects it seed financed have mobilized US $3.47 billion to build over one gigawatt of generation capacity, avoiding emissions of 4.68 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent each year.

But SCAF’s work isn’t just about cutting emissions. It is bringing huge benefits across the sustainable development agenda: increasing access to clean and reliable electricity and boosting communities across Asia and Africa. SCAF will be potentially creating 17,000 jobs.

This is evident in Ninh Thuan province, where the Blue Circle created both the first commercial wind power project and the first to be commissioned by a foreign private investor in Viet Nam.

Here, the Dam Nai wind farm has delivered fifteen 2.625 MW turbines, the largest in the country at the time. These will generate approximately 100 GWh per year. They will avoid over 68,000 tCO2e annually and create more than an estimated 302 temporary construction and 13 permanent operation and maintenance jobs for the local community.

Students from the local high school in Ninh Thuan Province were also given the opportunity to meet with engineers and technicians on the project, increasing their knowledge about how renewable energy works and opening up new career paths.

SCAF, through its partners, is supporting clean energy project development in the Southeast Asian region and African region. SCAF has more than a decade of experience in decarbonization and is currently poised to run till 2026.

UNEP

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