The Switzerland of Central Asia pushes for mountain issues at Rio+20 Summit

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Earth Journalism Network, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan has come to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil with an “open mind” to learn from the experiences of other mountain countries and to seek advice from developed countries on how to embrace a sustainable development policy, keeping the environment in the center of its policy framework.

Leading the Kyrgyz delegation to the Rio+20 Summit, the versatile Vice-Prime Minister of the central Asian country, Djoomart Otorbaev, told Business Bhutan: “We want to get advice. We want to apply the best practices for economic development that values the natural environment.”

With mountains comprising a whopping 94% of its land area, “Kyrgyzstan doesn’t want to have economic development at the expense of nature,” Otorbaev said.

Kyrgyzstan is closely following mountain issues at the Rio+20 Summit and participated at the Third Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership held at the Mountain Pavilion at the Summit.

“Mountains are very fragile towards the interference of nature,” he said, highlighting that climate change is a major concern in his country. He singled out the melting glaciers as the biggest threats of climate change. He said that the people of Kyrgyzstan are very dependent on water from the glaciers and receding glaciers could have a catastrophic impact on the lives of his people.

Under the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was the second poorest republic and its economy has not progressed much. It is still considered the second poorest country in Central Asia with a third of its population living below the poverty line. Otorbaev said that as one of the Least Developed Countries, a priority for Kyrgyzstan is the issue of technology transfer. He said there are huge prospects for the mining industry but his government wants to learn from other countries on how to explore this sustainably.

Kyrgyzstan is working closely with other mountain countries like Nepal and Bhutan to push for mountain issues at global negotiation tables like the Rio+20 Summit.

Otorbaev described the Rio+20 Summit as a “unique” meeting of world leaders and said all countries “have a big responsibility to be part of this process because the future may be completely different in the next 20 years (referring to the Rio+40 Summit).” Calling for urgent action to be taken, he said, “Our batteries should be charged for the nest 20 years.”

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan is occasionally referred to as “the Switzerland of Central Asia.” The country saw a revolution in April 2010 which overthrew the then president. Later it adopted a new constitution and presidential elections were held in November last year.