During an international conference “Ways to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality” on October 13, 2021, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reaffirmed the country’s commitment to climate change policy. While emphasizing the need for urgent modification of fuel and energy structures, update of industry policies and regulations, as well as renovation of housing and communal services, president delineated measures implemented in accordance with the Doctrine of carbon neutrality until 2060 [Kapital, 2021].
Kazakhstan as a landlocked country with vast deserts, low forest cover and low level of water supply face negative implications of climate change. According to Kazhydromet observations, the country experiences an increase in air temperature of 0.34°C every 10 years. Temperature changes cause an intensification of land degradation and desertification, fire hazard of forest and steppe areas, degradation of glaciers and large aquatic ecosystems, deterioration of agricultural conditions and other consequences linked to climate change. Almost 75% of the country’s territory is subject to ecological destabilization, with over 70% of the land facing desertification issues. Mountain glaciers, where three-quarters of all freshwaters in the country are concentrated, are at risk of intensive melting. Rapidly melting glaciers might change the flow of key rivers or cause shallowing of rivers. The satellite images show that glaciation of the Ile Alatau and Dzungarian Alatau mountains has decreased by 40%, whilst an average annual reduction in glacier area is equal to 0.8% [Nurbai, 2021].
The consequences of climate change may lead to outcomes such as food insecurity and poverty. For Kazakhstan, being among the top ten leading producers of milling wheat and flour in the world, the negative impact of climate change threatens to decrease the wheat yields by up to 40%. Given that the Central Asian states are traditional export destinations of Kazakhstan’s wheat, the food security of the region might be at high risk [Kapital. 2021]. In addition, there is a risk of water shortages, as a result of which, by 2050, Kazakhstan may be among the countries with a catastrophic water shortage [Nurbai, 2021]. These implications impact the socio-economic wellbeing of people that could lead to social tensions due to competition for water and resources. Natural disasters such as landslides, mudflows, heavy snowfalls and avalanches, floods, frosts, droughts, and extreme temperatures have already become part of our reality.
To respond to the growing impact of climate change, Kazakhstan was among the first in Central Asia that developed its policies in line with global environmental needs. Kazakhstan has been developing its climate change policy since 1995 when it ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Being a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol in 2009 and the Paris Agreement in 2016, in 2020 Kazakhstan set an ambitious goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 with an 80% share of renewable and alternative energy in a total energy balance of the country. The government commits to ensure the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 15% in 2030 compared to 1990 [Marteau, 2021].
Kazakhstan has been advancing its policies in energy, environment, water, waste, and other sectors and working on renovating its industry regulations. During the past ten years, the government has been keeping an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and currently developing its low-carbon development strategy [Nurbai, 2021]. In 2015, the government submitted its first National Determined Contributions (NDC) that committed to not exceed 2°C temperature warming from 1990 level. In 2022, the government is due to submit its first report on the Paris Agreement. On top of that, the government has been preparing for the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in November 2021, for which a roadmap of necessary technical measures and investments were developed. The roadmap includes seven sectors, such as energy, agriculture and forestry, industry, utilities, coal industry, waste management, and transport, where the decarbonization measures during 2023-2030 will be implemented. In addition, Kazakhstan was first in the region when in 2013 approved a national Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which sets carbon prices and regulates over 40% of domestic CO2 emissions [Marteau, 2021].
Despite such efforts, nonetheless, CO2 emissions of the country have more than doubled since 2000. Kazakhstan continues to rely on energy-intensive extractive industries. The outdated heat distribution systems, transmission systems and inefficient technologies lead to the consumption of huge amounts of energy. Although the government plans to update production technologies in the industrial sector to reduce energy consumption by 15-40%, a concrete action plan for transition is still absent [OECD, n.d; Poberezhskaya & Bychkova, 2021]. The Soviet legacy of a technocratic approach also impedes the modernization of facilities [Poberezhskaya & Bychkova, 2021].
Hence, to achieve a fundamental transformation of the industry sector into an energy-efficient model, external financial support and investments are required. At present, Kazakhstan is the largest recipient of international climate finance in Central Asia with over $1.7 billion received assistance during the last 10 years. The government has been actively promoting and attracting investments. Green Climate Fund and Climate Investment Funds (CIF) are major funding agencies with $1.3 billion of investment in Kazakhstan’s climate policy [The World Bank, 2020]. Other international stakeholders such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, along international projects such as Green Central Asia support Kazakhstan’s transition to a green economy.
Kazakhstan’s path towards an environmentally friendly economy as seen has been developing from its embryonic stage. Being the country with the 14th largest CO2 emitter in the world with inefficient energy diversity, where up to 47% of the total primary energy supply are still dominated by coal, fundamental changes both at policy and people’s level are mandatory for transition [Poberezhskaya & Bychkova, 2021]. Despite the government’s intention to reach carbon neutrality, the country’s overdependence on resource exports and extracting industries, lack of proper regulatory mechanisms and sustainable policy for green transformation, in combination with cheap energy and following business-as-usual scenarios so far complicate the actual transition to renewable and alternative energy resources.
Kapital (2021). President outlined tasks on the climate agenda. Retrieved from https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/99465/prezident-oboznachil-zadachi-po-klimaticheskoy-povestke.html. Accessed on 15.10.2021.
Marteau, Jean-Francois (2021). From Paris to Glasgow and beyond: Towards Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality by 2060. Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/europeandcentralasia/paris-glasgow-and-beyond-towards-kazakhstans-carbon-neutrality-2060. Accessed on 15.10.2021.
Nurbai, Rabiga (2021). Global Climate Change: Causes, Scale and Consequences for Kazakhstan. Retrieved from https://strategy2050.kz/ru/news/globalnye-izmeneniya-klimata-prichiny-masshtaby-i-posledstviya-dlya-kazakhstana/. Accessed on 15.10.2021.
OECD (n.d.). Reforming Kazakhstan. Progress, Challenges and Opportunities. Retrieved from www.oecd.org/eurasia/countries/OECD-Eurasia-Reforming-Kazakhstan-EN.pdf. Accessed on 15.10.2021.
Poberezhskaya, Marianna & Bychkova, Alina (2021). Kazakhstan’s climate change policy: reflecting national strength, green economy aspirations and international agenda, Post-Communist Economies, DOI: 10.1080/14631377.2021.1943916.
The World Bank (2020). Financing Climate Actions in Central Asia. A Survey of International and Local Investments. Retrieved from https://zoinet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CA-climate-finance-en.pdf . Accessed on 15.10.2021.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dr.Albina Muratbekova is a research fellow of the Eurasian Research Institute at H.A.Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Albina holds a PhD degree in Oriental Studies from Al Farabi Kazakh National University. She was a Fellow of the EUCACIS PhD support programme, Fudan Fellow 2017, a visiting student of the Cambridge Central Asia Forum at the University of Cambridge along with being an exchange student at Lanzhou University. Previously, she had worked at the international departments of Narxoz and AlmaU universities on the implementation of the internationalization strategy of th