Azerbaijan will host the 2024 United Nations Climate Change Conference (29th Conference of the Parties, COP29) at the end of this year. Being selected to host the most important international climate event is a major achievement for the South Caucasus country, though the spotlight it brings will come with its own challenges due to Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record and worsening relations with the West.

On Dec. 9, Azerbaijan was announced as the host country for the upcoming COP29 event, despite its lack of reputation as a climate change champion. It is worth noting that Armenia, one of the two shortlisted candidates, withdrew from the competition and opted to support Azerbaijan instead, the long-standing animosity between the two nations notwithstanding.

Baku’s aspiration to host the next Climate Change Conference was driven by a combination of factors related to both international and domestic politics and economics. First, Azerbaijan is motivated to improve its reputation on the world stage, in particular given that the event will take place near the beginning of President Ilham Aliyev’s new seven-year term. Azerbaijan is scheduled to hold a presidential election on Feb. 7, 2024. The current president is widely expected to win, but his re-election provides an opportunity for a fresh start: Hosting a high-profile event such as COP29 may enable Aliyev’s government to showcase its commitment to climate action, positioning itself as a leader in the region not only in traditional energy resources but also in green technologies. Indeed, Baku has already sought to demonstrate a commitment to renewable energy through recent actions. In light of Azerbaijan being selected as the host country for COP29, Aliyev declared 2024 Green World Solidarity Year.

A second consideration for Azerbaijan seems to be the belief that hosting COP29 could help it integrate more closely with the European community. Azerbaijan’s economic relationship with Europe has always been important: It is the only non-Russian pipeline natural gas supplier from the European Union’s eastern neighborhood and so plays a key role in boosting energy security for the continent. In turn, Azerbaijan exported 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to Europe in 2023, a significant increase from 8 bcm in 2021. Oil and gas account for 92% of the country’s export revenues and half of the state budget. But the world’s energy agenda is focused on shifting from fossil fuels to renewables and other non-hydrocarbon energy sources. The green energy deals expected to accompany COP29 on the sidelines may, therefore, offer greater economic opportunities and access to broader markets; and if Azerbaijan is able join any such notable projects, they could help its energy sector become more competitive in the global arena.

Relatedly, by showcasing its commitment to addressing climate change, Azerbaijan may hope to attract renewed support from European countries and strengthen its relationship with the continent. This factor is extremely important given recent developments in the South Caucasus. The region’s two other states, Armenia and Georgia, have each made significant strides to integrate more closely with the EU over the past year. Last December, the European Council granted Georgia its long-awaited candidate status, an essential step toward future membership in the bloc. Armenia has also taken important actions to pivot toward Europe and away from Russia, despite its overwhelming economic and security dependence on the latter. In a speech on Feb. 4, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan echoed similar remarks he made last September and stated that his country could no longer maintain its military-technical and defense relations with Russia, for objective and subjective reasons, and should instead consider pursuing security ties with France, the United States, Georgia, and India. By contrast, Azerbaijan’s relations with the West have deteriorated over this same period, going from bad to worse following US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien’s strong criticism, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of Azerbaijani actions in Karabakh; in response, Baku canceled a planned meeting between Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s ministers of foreign affairs. Most recently, the Azerbaijani delegation was removed from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) over the country’s democratic standards. As a consequence, Azerbaijan may be eager to avoid becoming an isolated pariah state like Russia and Belarus vis-à-vis the EU.

Third, Azerbaijan’s goal of attracting foreign direct investment to its nascent renewables industry — which, in part, would allow it to redirect domestic gas consumption toward increased exports — could be another key factor behind the decision to host COP29. As a country known mostly for its oil and gas resources, Azerbaijan may see the climate conference as an opportunity to diversify its economy and showcase its potential as a renewable energy hub in the region. Azerbaijan’s aspiration to replace natural gas-powered electricity generation with up to 4 gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity capacity is aligned with the global trend toward cleaner and more sustainable energy sources — a trend that, crucially, may tap into investment interest from Western companies. So far, Azerbaijan has not been particularly successful in attracting European or American investors to its renewable projects; but it has caught the eye of Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar). Masdar signed two solar and one onshore wind power agreement with a total capacity of 1 GW, while ACWA is developing a 240-megawatt wind power plant.

Finally, hosting COP29 and reprioritizing climate issues could also open opportunities to improve Azerbaijan’s relationship with Armenia by focusing on bilateral renewable projects in bordering regions. Such initiatives could serve as a neutral and constructive platform to bring the two formerly warring countries together. It will be important to look beyond transnational logistics and energy corridors, which have caused problems between the two neighbors in the past. Since late 2020, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at loggerheads over the Zangezur overland transit corridor, for example — a concept that would provide Azerbaijan access to its Nakhchivan enclave via southern Armenian territory and physically connect Turkey with the Caspian region. Despite agreeing to its implementation, Yerevan has continued to drag its feet due to domestic concerns over the corridor undermining Armenian sovereignty. On the other hand, the possibility of renewable energy collaboration looks more plausible in light of Armenia’s support for Azerbaijan’s COP29 host-nation candidacy, which marked the first significant thaw in relations between the two countries.

Following back-to-back COPs held in the Middle East, this year’s marquee climate change event, hosted by Baku, is anticipated to raise critical awareness and comprehension of climate change in the South Caucasus and broader Eurasian region. To ensure the success of COP29, the organizers will need to undertake significant efforts to promote the climate change cause on a global scale, including extensive lobbying to encourage states and private groups to invest more in net-zero policies. Azerbaijan’s experience implementing large, strategically important transnational projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor will be worth emulating in this regard.


Rauf Mammadov is a Non-Resident Scholar at MEI, focusing on issues of energy security, global energy industry trends, as well as energy relations between the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Caucasus. 

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images

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