The United States is, by most measures, still the largest economy in the world. According to the World Bank, its carbon monoxide emissions per capita over the last five years, although on a downward trend, remain the highest of any large economy. Without decisive action in Washington, hopes of successfully tackling climate change are slim.
That is why U.S. President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, outlined Aug. 3, rightfully received praise as a “game changer.” A 2030 target of cutting carbon emissions by almost a third below 2005 levels was a remarkably bold statement, particularly given the strength of climate change scepticism that remains in America.
But the scale of the challenge and threat demands such ambition. Explaining the need for such drastic action, President Obama pointed out that all but one of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred this century. Climate change with increased temperatures and more frequent severe weather is not a threat for the future but the reality today for many regions, including Central Asia.
These heatwaves, droughts and storms are, however, just a taste of what is to come. Experts predict that anything beyond a two-degree rise in temperatures may have uncontrollable and irreversible consequences. On our present trajectory, we will be taking this huge gamble with our collective future.
It is why so much attention has been focussed on the international climate change talks to take place in Paris at the end of the year. Getting global agreement on the steps needed first to slow and then halt climate change when countries are at different stages of the development path will be incredibly difficult. But the U.S. plan has raised hopes that a breakthrough can be made.
So too, have the promises from China, the world’s greatest producer of greenhouse gases. China has vowed that emissions from its fast-growing economy would peak by 2030 if not earlier. This means ending its dependence on coal to drive its continued prosperity.
The steps and stance of the United States and China are crucial because they together produce around two-fifths of all greenhouse gases. In comparison, Kazakhstan emits just one percent. But like many oil producing countries, our per capita emissions rates are high. And holding down temperature rises also requires every country to move to low-carbon development.
This is a responsibility which Kazakhstan has accepted. We may have rich resources of oil and gas, but firm plans, backed by concrete actions, are in place to cut emissions. A target has been set to reduce greenhouse gases by 15 percent in 2025 and 25 percent in 2050 below 1992 levels, when our economy was many times smaller.
The key to meeting these targets will be to maximise the country’s potential to generate clean energy. We are starting from a low base with our renewable energy industry generating less than one percent of our electricity. But four solar farms, 13 wind farms and 14 hydro plants are already being built with the aim that eight percent of the country’s energy will be generated from these sectors within five years. This is just the start with a target of 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Clean energy also encompasses nuclear power. As the world’s largest producer of natural uranium, Kazakhstan is ideally placed to develop a civilian nuclear energy industry in the coming years to reduce greenhouse gases and accelerate the move to a low carbon economy.
Such expansion of clean energy will need major investment. But Kazakhstan has not fallen into the trap of believing that the choice is between a green or prosperous economy. Instead, it is forecast that the move to low carbon development could add as much as 3 percent to our country’s GDP, giving a very significant return on up-front costs.
Hitting these targets and earning these returns also depends crucially on improving energy efficiency. There is both huge potential and a desperate need to achieve this aim. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that post-Soviet economies, with their legacy of inefficient industries, buildings and networks could half energy use by adopting higher standards.
It is a shift that we believe EXPO 2017 can help drive. It was a sign of the country’s determination to maximise the opportunities for green development that the theme of Future Energy was chosen for the exhibition in Astana less than two years from now. Not only will it provide the opportunity to showcase and share the latest global technological developments in green energy but is also intended to help embed higher standards across the country.
This is important, of course, for our future prosperity. But the fight against climate change is also essential for the wider well-being of humanity and our planet. As President Obama said, we are not only the first generation to experience the impact of climate change but may be the last that can halt it. In the last few months before Paris, it is something that all countries must remember.