During the Workshop the participants from UNEP, Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IGRAS) and Moscow State University (MSU) presented the project concept and timeline, in particular methodology of developing an e-Atlas on “Environmental Changes in Central Asia Countries”, technological aspects of access to its content, announced a cycle of training workshops for interested stakeholders from the project partner-countries on collecting and processing thematic geospatial data on the basis of the IGRAS.
It was stressed that importance of the project is connected with the existing issues on collecting, updating and processing of geospatial information on the state of environment in the Republic of Uzbekistan. As of today, in the Republic of Uzbekistan there is no unified methodology for collecting and representing basic and spatial thematic data. In October 2018, the Coordination Council on Implementation of National Sustainable Development Goals in Uzbekistan was established to guide the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Approved in October 2019, the Concept on Environmental Protection until 2030 (2019 Decree of the President No. 5863), a totally new document for Uzbekistan, set nationalized SDGs and measures to achieve them. The list of nationalized SDGs includes 16 national goals (of 17 global goals, with Goal 14 on oceans excluded), 125 national targets, and 206 indicators. Among them 46 indicators are related to the environment. As for the 46 environmental indicators under the national SDGs indicator framework, only 9 have data available (online) and have no methodological problems. Some national environment-related indicators have a more limited scope than the corresponding ones in the global indicator framework for the 2030 SDGs and targets. The brand-new website of the State Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection (SCEEP) (http://environment.gov.uz) is operational. Data related to water resources, land resources and subsoil, soil protection, eco-energy, environmental monitoring, environmental control, environmental assessment and environmental certification is either lacking or of limited content. Open data and other information posted on the website are of limited content.
The workshop started with opening statements by Ms. Helena Fraser, UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Alisher Maksudov, Chairperson of the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Ecology and Environmental Protection, Mr. Vadim Mitrofanov, Minister-counsellor, Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Uzbekistan, and Ms. Aidai Kurmanova, Head of the Central Asia Office of UNEP.
All speakers highlighted that the implementation of the project will allow Uzbekistan to gain access to a comprehensive classification of land cover and land use, mapping of its territories, including terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as well as information obtained from existing environmental monitoring networks. It was noted that the information gathered by the project partners and the target country will be relevant for the preparation of national reports on the state-of-the-environment, for the sustainable management of natural resources, to address transboundary environmental issues, as well as to report on the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 6 and SDG 15) and for reporting under relevant multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).
Following the opening statements, the workshop continued with an introduction to the workshop, which included a presentation on the objectives and agenda of the workshop, an introduction to the project partners: (Moscow State University and the Institute of Geography, Russian National Academy of Sciences) as well as a an opportunity to address questions by the workshop participants.
The second session of the workshop mainly focused on presenting the project and the scope of activities to be carried out. It started with the provision of a project overview and a presentation covering key benefits and opportunities from the project for Uzbekistan. This was followed by a presentation of technical capacity, roles and responsibilities where the Moscow State University and the Institute of Geography, Russian National Academy of Sciences introduced their capacities and explained what their roles within the project would be (e.g. running the training programme and producing a digital atlas for Uzbekistan). The workshop participants were at this point provided another opportunity to ask questions.
The main purpose of this session was to consider key environmental and management of natural resource challenges and, more importantly, to identify national priorities. As a step to support this part of the workshop, which is crucial for project implementation in Uzbekistan, was to present results from a survey that had been operationalised ahead of the workshop. In general, the survey confirms the importance of the SDGs selected for the project, including those related to safe water supply (e.g., one national goal is access to centralized water); development of drip irrigation (e.g., only small portion of irrigated lands is equipped); further expansion of nature protection areas (e.g., arid and semi-arid types of ecosystems are still underrepresented in national protection network); sustainable forestry (e.g., there is no forest certification system); organic food production/agriculture (e.g., there is no national legislation on organic production); monitoring of invasive plant species in the country which has only just started in the country; spatial data on mudslides as well as flood zones, data on the number of people living in risk zones and others.
The survey also shows that a significant proportion of professionals do not use GIS technology to solve environmental problems. Among those who use GIS, the prevailing approach is rather illustrative rather than analytical, e.g., vegetation mapping, inventory, spatial spotting of water protection zones and protected areas. This supports the project objective in highlighting that the planned training sessions on GIS analytical tools is important. This is also confirmed by 50 per cent of the respondents who noted the need to conduct trainings and professional development. The issue of technical support, including on UAVs, is also important (as noted by 33 per cent of the respondents). In addition, it can be noted that none of the respondents believes that there are large-scale international projects in the country that are doing enough to reduce the damage from natural disasters. Among the national projects, only projects related to the Aral Sea were highlighted. This again demonstrates the overall importance of the project from a national perspective.
Part of the workshop was dedicated towards national stocktaking and the identification of national priorities as an important session during the workshop, in particular, as it will allow the project to accommodate national specificities into the activities that will be carried out (e.g., training programme). As part of this effort, UNEP and the project partners, carried out a survey with the workshop participants in advance of and during the course of the workshop.
One point raised during this part of the workshop concerned the forthcoming nominations coming from the State Committee on whom will be trained, which can be people within the State Committee but also people that are working with this priority issues as well other relevant stakeholders. In addition, it was noted that the project will develop a digital atlas of the environment. This will allow Uzbekistan to analyze and evaluate changes in key areas of the environment related to land, water, biodiversity, etc.