Daniel Haas: “BMZ Pays Particular Attention to Cross-Country Exchange”

Daniel Haas: “BMZ Pays Particular Attention to Cross-Country Exchange”

Interview with Mr. Daniel Haas, the Head of German Development Cooperation in the South Caucasus.

 

Interview : Areg Davtyan    Photo : Embassy of Georgia to the Federal Republic of Germany

 

 

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has active cooperation with the three countries of the South Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. What is the frame and the main focus of this cooperation?

BMZ cooperates with all three countries of the South Caucasus within the framework of the Caucasus Initiative of the German Federal Government. The three priority areas are sustainable economic development, good governance, and environmental protection.

All BMZ funded programmes have a regional perspective towards the three countries of the South Caucasus with activities adapted to the specific circumstances and needs of each country. This approach makes it possible to join forces, achieve real improvements, and maximize impact. At the same time, it opens the opportunity to integrate cross-border exchange at technical level, which we see as an essential component of each project and programme in order to establish connections between the countries that would otherwise not be possible due to the conflict in the region.

With commitments of about EUR 130 million over the last six years, Germany is currently the largest bilateral donor for environmental protection and natural resources management in the South Caucasus.

 

German Cooperation consists of the technical and the financial cooperation. What are the most important features that characterize each of the two approaches?

Technical and financial cooperation are closely interlinked and have an impact on various levels. The technical cooperation projects are mainly implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, developing the capacities of individuals, organizations, and societies in partner countries. Financial cooperation projects are implemented by KfW Development Bank assisting with financing of development measures, by providing both grants and loans. We also work with and through other partners in the region, like WWF and the Caucasus Nature Fund (CNF), the latter having been set up through the support provided by the German government.

 

Environmental issues in the South Caucasus are one of the priority areas of the BMZ. Looking at the worlds' main challenges in the field of environment, what is the situation in the South Caucasus?

In recent years, besides climate change, the loss of biodiversity has become one of the greatest global challenges. The report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reveals that around one million animal and plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and many of these will become extinct within the next few decades. This is an unprecedented rate in human history, which is driven by several environmental challenges such as habitat loss and degradation, climate change, pollution, overexploitation, and unsustainable use of natural resources. This trend is also visible in the South Caucasus, an area, which is considered to be one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots.” Therefore, the countries of the South Caucasus have a great responsibility in conserving the unique biodiversity of their region. Rich biodiversity is vital for the economic opportunities of local communities in South Caucasus countries: agriculture, energy, water supply, and tourism are good examples. The rich flora and fauna also fulfill important functions for climate protection and help to adapt to the effects of climate change, which are increasingly noticeable. Just as on a global scale, all these valuable ecosystem services are at risk in this region as well. In all the three countries, there is enormous pressure on nature and natural resources, driven by poverty and unsustainable use of resources.

What are the key strategic goals of BMZ in the South Caucasus region for improving the environment and biodiversity?

German Development Corporation has made a multi-year commitment to support the South Caucasus region's quest to find solutions to the mentioned problems and to pursue a development path that would meet the needs of the society while protecting the environment and biodiversity. Important global frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have been ratified by the three countries. We support the countries in implementing these commitments.

With support from the German government, a number of strategies and laws related to improved conservation of nature and biodiversity have been developed and are now being applied. In Armenia, the platform on sustainable pasture management has been established, which is a good example for intersectoral collaboration. Stakeholders from different ministries, universities, civil society organizations and communities come together to discuss relevant issues and work on joint strategies balancing diverging interests. In Georgia, we support the introduction of sustainable forest management practices, an important aspect for conserving biodiversity, as forests cover about 40% of Georgia’s territory.

Environmental awareness raising among the population is a cross-cutting topic in all the three countries, which leads people to better understand the benefits of nature and consequently, use it in a sustainable way and protect it. We also assist in increasing energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy, e.g. by providing loans via commercial banks to finance energy-efficiency measures in private houses or to install solar devices and small hydropower plants.

Germany has been contributing to the development and proper management of protected areas in the South Caucasus for more than 20 years by providing infrastructure, special equipment, and modern management planning. Local communities must benefit from the protected areas. Therefore, our programmes promote sustainable agriculture and income-generating activities such as beekeeping and eco-tourism. To ensure the long-term functioning of the protected areas, we operate through a local partner, the Caucasus Nature Fund (CNF). Today, the CNF financially supports 18 protected areas covering an area of 550,000 ha (almost 1,236,000 acres). The CNF, set up as an endowment fund, is also a champion in terms of financial sustainability because its activities are largely financed by its own capital revenues. It is a strategic interest of BMZ that more donors or philanthropic partners contribute to the fund, which creates a unique return on investment – intact ecosystems and conservation of the invaluable wealth of the region’s biological diversity for current and future generations.

 

How can German Development Cooperation contribute to regional cooperation and exchange taking into consideration the existing conflict?

All BMZ supported programmes pay particular attention to cross-country exchange, which creates cooperative relationships and also promotes rapprochement between the countries. The South Caucasus comprises large ecosystems and habitats, which do not end at political borders. An example of transboundary cooperation is KfW’s Eco-Corridor Programme: by connecting protected areas through eco-corridors, isolated populations of wild animals can migrate and thus prevent genetic degradation. And again, here as well, we work with and through the local communities where villagers are engaged in and directly profit from conservation activities both socially and economically.

In the framework of the technical cooperation programmes, regional conferences, training events, and joint study tours are organized providing the opportunity to exchange on topics like ecosystem services, erosion control, and sustainable forest and pasture management, among others. Such events are valuable opportunities to promote dialogue between the three countries, regardless of the existing conflict.

 

Finally, a personal question: what makes this region a special place for you?

As it happens to many diplomats, in our family, too, we quickly lost our hearts to the South Caucasus, its friendly people, and its diverse and ancient cultures. And, of course, the abundance of nature and the most impressive landscapes are part of the magic, which make the region a special place for me. It is a privilege to work here with committed partners and to join forces in order to preserve what has been borrowed by humanity.

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