Are Azerbaijan’s Ancient Forest Communities Ready for Climate Change?

20 August 2014 | Article

The ancient language, streets, arts, and even sewers of this mountain village in northern Azerbaijan have withstood the test of time, but how ready is the village to adapt to a changing climate?

Stepping past the wood-fired tendir bread oven in the sandstone courtyard into the cool shade of one of the many generations-old coppersmith workshops in Lahij, Azerbaijan, you are likely to find museum-quality copper goblets sitting alongside dozens more on shelves and in well-worn niches in the stone walls. In these ground floor workshops under thousand-year-old homes, villagers still speak the local Lahiji language, a version of Tati, spoken by only a few thousand people, and proudly trace their connections to the court of the legendary Shah Kay Khosrow who vacationed in the village a millennium ago.

The ancient language and medieval streets, arts, and even sewers of this mountain village on the southern flanks of the Caucasus Mountains have withstood the test of time, but how ready is the village to adapt to a changing climate? 
 
Until recently, little has been done to understand the impacts of climate change on Azerbaijan’s forest communities such as Lahij. Like in many other forest communities in Eastern Europe, unregulated tourism, illegal grazing and logging, and a warming climate have taken a toll on the resources Lahij’s residents use for food, medicine and firewood. 
 
What impacts of climate change are already evident? How ready are these communities to adapt? What can local residents and governments do to mitigate the impacts on their communities? Those are some of the questions Bariz Mehdiyev is trying to answer for the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance program (FLEG II) through a series of surveys in forest communities in Azerbaijan. 
 
“We are working to get an idea of how local authorities and local communities understand climate change, its negative impact to forest areas, and climate change adaptation and mitigation,” said Mehdiyev. 
 
At present, Mehdiyev has draft questionnaires ready which include questions related to different aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation, mainly focusing on the forest sector. He is conducting the surveys this summer in two pilot regions of Azerbaijan–the Shamakhi district with an arid climate and the semi-arid Lahij.
 
“Forest communities and forest beneficiaries should understand both the economic and social aspects of climate change impacts such as how long lasting hot days during the summer season can lead to ‘heat stresses’ and increased fire cases,” said Azer Garayev, ENPI East FLEG II Country Program Coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a FLEG II project partner organization. “We hope this project will give us a better understanding of what people in Azerbaijan’s forest communities know and don’t yet know about how climate change could impact them and what they can do about it.”
 
Recently, Mehdiyev carried out a number of meetings with participants in projects working on similar issues, such as Third National Communication project and the Asian Development Bank’s “Economics of Climate Change in Central and West Asia” project. The idea was to ensure an exchange of expertise and knowledge with the main local and international projects/programs which are currently dealing with climate change in the country. The meetings aimed to share information on climate change tendencies, its impact to forest resources, as well on adaptation issues in Azerbaijan. 
 
One of the most problematic issues identified in the meetings is that local communities and forest users are not ready for such “natural” problems due to an insufficient level of knowledge and capacity on the issues. Local communities also need help planning adaptive measures to cope with such unexpected climate change impacts. 
 
Development of forest adaption plans to climate change at local and regional levels as well as support to local communities for forest disaster management is one of the FLEG II Program’s leading activities in Azerbaijan. IUCN launched this assessment activity as part of its FLEG II program work in March of 2014 and is on schedule to analyse the data in late summer.
 
The Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) II European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) East Countries Program supports participating countries' forest governance. At the regional level, the Program aims to implement the 2005 St. Petersburg FLEG Ministerial Declaration and support countries to commit to a time-bound action plan. At the national level, the Program will review or revise forest sector policies and legal and administrative structures and improve knowledge of and support for sustainable forest management and good forest governance in the participating countries. And at the sub-national (local) level, the Program will test and demonstrate best practices for sustainable forest management and the feasibility of improved forest governance practices at the field-level on a pilot basis. Participating countries include Azerbaijan, Armenia,  Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. The Program is funded by the European Union and implemented by the World Bank, WWF, and IUCN. 
 


View of logging road in the Cameroon Forests