Building Back Greener in Times of COVID19

A triple-win in Azerbaijan as new technology provides clean gas to rural populations and reduces harmful emissions and deforestation

Fazilya Isayeva is 77 years old and has lived her whole life in the Zeyva village of Siyazan. Like most of her neighbours in the village and the surrounding households in this remote mountainous region of Azerbaijan, Fazilya has worked as a farmer since she was a child and is used to hard toil in the fields.

But there’s one daily chore that she and her elderly neighbours all dread: the chore of collecting wood from the forests — especially in the harsh winter.

Collecting firewood is not only backbreaking work but also extremely time-consuming. As a grandmother, what Fazilya wants most of all is to spend as much time as possible helping to bring up her grandchildren.

And right now she has an additional pressing reason to stay close to home — the Covid-19 pandemic and the particular threat it poses to elderly people.

Wood-burning has other negative effects too. Over the years the dependence of the local population on wood for heating and cooking has led to serious deforestation in the region, with multiple knock-on effects such as greater risk of erosion and landslides.

At the same time the country has onshore oil wells releasing large amounts of natural gases into the atmosphere, including methane emissions that contribute to climate change.

Azerbaijan ratified the Convention on Climate Change in 1995 and signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, committing the country to an ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030.

To address the social and environmental problems arising from coal and wood-dependency, UNDP joined forces with Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company SOCAR and gained funding in the amount of 1M USD under the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions Project funded by the Global Environment Facility to come up with and implement a novel technical solution.

And the outcome is proving a triple win.

The solution decided upon was to install new gas-capturing technology that will deliver gas for heating and cooking to the 15 villages of the region and also reduce harmful emissions from production processes at onshore oil wells.

New compressors and separators have been installed in the Siyazan oilfields and these are helping to collect associated gas from the crude oil process and turn it into clean fuel.

Meanwhile, the Azeri Gas Facility has already built the distribution network and more than half of the people from the 15 villages are now connected and have successfully completely switched to gas.

The new technology has so far reduced onshore methane emissions by 20%.

Seven million cubic metres of clean gas, including 4.6 million m3 of methane previously vented into the atmosphere, will be delivered to people’s home in the form of clean fuel.

The provision of gas will reduce deforestation and people in rural areas, especially women and children, will have more time to spend on tasks other than collecting wood, making it easier for children to attend school regularly.

‘We’re connected to gas for the first time in my life,’ says Fazilya, ‘It’s something I never believed would happen. I don’t have to go collecting wood any more and I spend the time with my grandchildren instead. It’s like a life-saver!’

UNDP Resident Representative Alessandro Fracassetti says the project is ‘an excellent model that should be replicated as we build back better and greener from the pandemic,’ adding that ‘The new technology has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing vulnerable rural communities with clean fuel — a great outcome for everyone involved and for the planet itself.’