Dr. Irina Ghaplanyan

Ghaplanyan Speaks About Environmental Risks in Armenia for ARPA Institute

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By Margarita Ivanova

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

LOS ANGELES — Dr. Irina Ghaplanyan, a former deputy minister of environment for the Republic of Armenia, climate policy professional, and political scientist, spoke about Armenian environmental security at a February 13 Zoom event organized by the ARPA (Analysis Research & Planning for Armenia) Institute.

Ghaplanyan declared that combating pollution and climate change must be a community effort. She gave the example of the gradual repair of the ozone layer. “After a few decades of active engagement from the global community, and commitments from virtually every country in the world, we see that the ozone layer is gradually recovering,” Ghaplanyan said.

Climate change implications not only affect the climate, but every aspect of natural resources. Since the pre-industrial period, Armenia has registered a 1.3 degree Celsius increase, as well as a 9-percent precipitation increase. These extreme climate shifts have had a negative impact on the economy, and especially on the agricultural sector, Ghaplanyan said.

According to a Swiss Institute study forecast, if the world stays on this climate change track, Armenia’s average summer temperatures will surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). “So many layers of the economy will be affected, not just agriculture,” said Ghaplanyan.

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Drastic changes throughout the community would be necessary in order to keep up with these drastic temperature changes. “This would include things like rewiring the entire infrastructure of certain buildings and reconstructing roads to sustain the heat,” she continued.

Climate change is not the only factor that has led to a shift in agriculture. “War itself is not only inhuman, but an environmental disaster,” said Ghaplanyan. The impacts of the war have led to an exponential increase in pollution, as well as the biodiversity of the ecosystems.

As Azerbaijan has continued to employ weapons containing phosphorus in Armenia and Artsakh, the air has become polluted from explosions, and the soil has become extremely damaged. “Phosphorus has a similar effect on the ecosystem as it does to the human body. It is very toxic when it touches skin, and treatment is often a removal process,” said Ghaplanyan. Although the governments of Armenia and Artsakh governments prohibited the use of these chemicals unless targeting a military base, Azerbaijan has knowingly targeted forests. This human rights violation can legally be qualified as an attempt at ecocide.

These constant threats that the ecosystem in Armenia is experiencing can be prevented to a degree if action is taken by the societies of Armenia and Artsakh.

Armenia has displayed activism in several spheres: increasing electric mobility, being a party to every international environmental convention, and minimizing GAG (Generation of Ammonia from Grazing) emissions. Dr. Ghaplanyan said that there is a lot more that Armenia can do in terms of minimizing these emissions. This includes investing in more solar power, and using the country’s prominent IT sector and engineering to create more multidisciplinary projects.

One specific energy sector that needs to be targeted, Dr. Ghaplanyan says, is construction. Thirty percent of the general energy in Armenia goes towards heating buildings. Approximately 19,000 of these buildings are non-energy efficient.

 

Solutions

Ghaplanyan said that investing into constructive energy-efficient buildings is a start. This would not only tackle energy poverty, but also bring new green jobs to the country. “If we connect further textile development to solar energy production, then economic growth can become more green.”

One difficulty is an increase in deforestation, which is fueled by poverty. “Wherever you see the highest levels of poverty, you also have the highest pressure on the environment,” said Ghaplanyan. Deforestation, illegal fishing, and water base reduction is very prominent in these areas. Turkey’s construction of major water reservoir dams across Armenia’s border, despite agreements that go back 100 years, has contributed to low water levels

These are all problems that can be alleviated through policymaking, according to Ghaplanyan. “You need good policymaking which contains a long-term socioeconomic component. When it comes to foreign policy, it is more difficult to create these foreign policies when you have hostile neighboring countries.”

The struggle of maintaining water levels at Lake Sevan dates back to when Armenia became part of the Soviet Union. Since then, the lake has dropped more than 20 meters, and eutrophication has increased. This has left the lake constantly exploited because of the constant waste flow, which communities around the lake contribute to due to the lack of waste water cleaning stations.

Mining sectors have also continued operating; many operating without the proper environmental procedure put in place. This is something that the Armenian government overlooks because it relies heavily on the taxes that come from these mines, said Dr. Ghaplanyan. “Legislation has been very lax and hasn’t put many checks in place.”

Companies also over-rely on mining, and over-reliance leads to underinvestment in areas like agriculture and tourism, which can be prevented through checks put in place. These underlying situations affecting the environment all  similar solutions.

At the end of the event, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions chosen by moderator Ani Shabazian.

Ghaplanyan again connected the situation in Armenia with the rest of the world, declaring: “We need to talk about this on an international scale because it doesn’t only impact countries like Armenia.” At the same time, she remarked, Armenia is a country that has the potential to enforce carbon-neutral action that can benefit other countries.

“As the secretary-general of the United Nations referenced in a speech, ‘No country is small enough not to make a difference,’” Ghaplanyan emphasized.

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