What is Central Asia’s take on how to address climate change in run-up to COP28 in Dubai

Central Asia
Photo: WAM

On November 7, Astana hosted a regional forum uniting representatives from five Central Asian countries, governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations to explore the region’s efforts in addressing the consequences of climate change. For Central Asia, a region with vast natural resources and diverse climate conditions, it is paramount to unite in this effort, according to experts. More about where the five countries in the region stand in their progress towards low carbon development is in the latest article of Kazinform agency.

Climate change is real

Climate change is having a significant impact on Central Asia, one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to its effects, comprising Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. According to the World Bank, every year, over 3 million people in Central Asia experience the impact of storms, floods, landslides, and earthquakes. The region is also susceptible to the melting of glaciers.

According to the 2022 report prepared by the Kazakh government, the Global Environmental Facility, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), temperatures continue rising in Kazakhstan. A comparison of long-term average ambient temperature values for two consecutive periods of 1961-1990 and 1991-2020 indicates that the country's average annual temperature has increased by 0.9 degrees Celsius.

Heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent in Central Asia. For instance, in 2020, temperatures soared to a new record high, surpassing the established climate standard of 1.92 degrees Celsius. This surpassed the previous record set in 2013, which had an indicator of 1.89 degrees Celsius.

From the early 1950s onward, Uzbekistan has also experienced an average temperature increase of 0.29 degrees Celsius per decade, a rate that is twice as high as the global warming average. Tajikistan, for example, is also highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change - 93% of the country's territory is mountainous.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Countries in Central Asia are highly dependent on fossil fuels. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan have the largest carbon footprints and are listed among the top 100 countries in the world for carbon dioxide emissions from heavy industries.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), over 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Central Asia stem from the production and consumption of energy. Agriculture ranks as the second-highest emitting sector, followed by waste and industrial processes.

Data from UNFCC shows that in Kazakhstan, the energy sector accounts for 77.47% of total GHG emissions, followed by agriculture (12.67%) and industrial processes (8.01%).

In 2021, total greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 340.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, 0.7% less than in 2020.

In Uzbekistan, which signed the Paris Agreement in 2017 and ratified it in 2018, the energy sector accounts for 76.3% of total GHG emissions, followed by agriculture (17.8%) and industrial processes (4.5%). In 2021, the nation updated its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to reduce specific GHG emissions per unit of GDP by 35% instead of 10% by 2030 from the level of 2010.

According to Uzbekistan’s first biennial report submitted to UNFCCC, in 2017, Uzbekistan produced 189.2 million tons of GHG emissions. Over the period from 2010 to 2017, the overall GHGs decreased by 10.9 million metric tons, representing a 5.4% reduction.

In Turkmenistan, for instance, data is only available for 2010. The energy sector dominates in terms of GHG emissions, accounting for 85.09% as of 2010. This is followed by agriculture (12.44%) and industrial processes (1.9%). However, Turkmenistan also stands out for having one of the highest per capita methane emissions, mainly due to a significant portion coming from fugitive emissions.

Renewable energy development

The countries are taking steps to reduce their GHG emissions through domestic policies and measures. Renewable energy development is one of them.

Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal, generally produce electricity with minimal or zero direct emissions of greenhouse gases during operation. Unlike fossil fuels, they don't release large amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases when generating power.

For example, Kazakhstan has adopted a renewable energy policy that aims to increase the share of renewable energy in the country's energy mix to 15% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. As of 2022, the figure stands at 4.53%, according to the Bureau of National Statistics.

According to the Kazakh Energy Ministry, by the end of 2022, there were 130 renewable energy facilities, including 46 wind power plants and 44 solar power plants, operating in the country with an installed capacity of 2,400 megawatts. Solar power plants are leading, with 1,148 megawatts.

In 2022, 12 renewable energy facilities were commissioned with a total capacity of 385 megawatts with a total investment of 180 billion tenge.

Uzbekistan has also adopted a renewable energy development plant that aims to increase the share of energy production using renewable energy sources to at least 20% by 2025 and not less than 25% by 2030.

In February 2023, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree that envisions accelerating the introduction of renewable energy sources. The document tasks to commission renewable energy sources with a total capacity of 4,300 megawatts, including large solar and wind power plants with a capacity of 2,100 megawatts. Uzbekistan also plans to produce an additional 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electrical energy and save 4.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2023 through the construction of renewable energy installations, switching consumers to alternative energy, and introducing energy-saving technologies.

In both countries, however, this effort is inhibited by heavy subsidies for fossil fuels, which drive down retail electricity costs below the global average. Experts advise the countries to consider revising their fossil fuel subsidies and developing carbon pricing approaches.

Another challenge for countries is secure investments, but there are several factors that may discourage investors. One of them is that the nations’ grids are not ready for a big volume of renewable energy, because most require significant upgrades.

Economic losses

According to the Vice Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Mansur Oshurbayev, climate change will inevitably lead to economic losses.

“According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, natural disasters incur an economic loss of 2% of global GDP. If we look at Kazakhstan, the figure stands at $4 billion. In our country, environmental protection, rational use of natural resources, and ensuring ecological security is one of the priorities,” said Oshurbayev at the regional forum on November 7.

Data from the World Bank indicates if no actions are taken, the economic losses resulting from droughts and floods alone in Central Asia are estimated to reach 1.3% of GDP annually. By 2050, crop yields are anticipated to decline by 30%, potentially causing the displacement of approximately 5.1 million individuals as internal climate migrants.

Kazakhstan’s vision

Kazakhstan, the largest economy in Central Asia, is on a long and thorny journey to combat climate change and transition towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy. Despite being a major producer of fossil fuels, the country’s leadership has recognized the urgency of addressing environmental challenges and is actively pursuing a greener path.

In 2013, Kazakhstan adopted the Concept for the Transition to a Green Economy for 2030, outlining a comprehensive strategy for reducing GHGs and promoting sustainable development. In December 2020, at the Climate Ambition Summit, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced Kazakhstan’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, a goal many developed economies worldwide are trying to pursue. In February this year, the government adopted a carbon neutrality strategy.

Besides that, efforts on climate adaptation are also essential. Kazakhstan has also been reinvigorating an emissions trading system (ETS) as part of its efforts to address climate change and reduce GHGs.

ETS is a market-based approach to controlling pollution, by setting a cap on the total amount of GHGs that certain industries or sectors are allowed to emit. ETS is stipulated by the new Environmental Code adopted in January 2021.

Kazakhstan's ETS covers the oil and gas industry, energy sector, mining, metallurgy, and chemical industry, as well as manufacturing industries related to the production of construction materials such as cement, lime, gypsum, and brick. Currently, the ETS covers only carbon dioxide emissions.

According to Oshurbayev, overall, the needed net investment in low-carbon technologies stands at $610 million in Kazakhstan or 19.6% of the gross fixed capital formation.

One voice of Central Asia

At the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28, on November 30 - December 12 in Dubai, Central Asian countries will be presented in one pavilion. This is the second time the region united in its participation at the global conference after COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

Opening the regional forum in Astana on November 7, Kazakh Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Yerlan Nysanbayev emphasized the significance of collaborative efforts in addressing climate change. Nysanbayev highlighted that such collective efforts are pivotal for ensuring long-term sustainable development and a prosperous future for the region.

“This year, Kazakhstan adopted a carbon neutrality strategy until 2060 which serves as a guideline for deep decarbonization of the economy and identifies national contributions. We aim to cut GHGs by 15% by 2030. We also improved the ecological legislation, adopting a new Environmental Code,” said the minister, stressing Kazakhstan’s initiative to host the Regional Climate Summit in 2026.

UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan Michaela Friberg-Storey, stressed the importance of such regional commitment, describing the forum as an example of multilateralism in decision-making.

“As the United Nations, we will continue supporting Central Asian countries and we are going to do everything we can to link the countries to the multilateral and global agenda,” said Friberg-Storey.

According to Torsten Brezina, GIZ Regional Program Coordinator in Central Asia, the voice of countries will be heard more if they act together. He noted that the joint regional strategy for adaptation to climate change in Central Asia has been developed and is now at the stage of coordination and will be presented at COP28.

Addressing the impact of climate change is complex and challenging effort, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is paramount for countries to consider its own natural resources and regulatory frameworks, but also fulfil their commitment to working together as one region and one voice.

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