How Kazakhstan Aims to Achieve Carbon Neutrality

It was reported just recently that the build-up of warming gases in the atmosphere rose to record levels in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with CO2, methane and nitrous oxide rising by more than the annual average in the past 10 years. The World Meteorological Organization warned that this will drive up temperatures in excess of the goals of the Paris agreement adopted by 196 Parties at COP21 in 2015.

Such worrying facts demonstrate unequivocally the importance of countries reaching the necessary agreements to help tackle climate change at the upcoming COP26 global climate conference this November in Glasgow.

Kazakhstan knows all too well that it too needs to take action to reduce its carbon footprint and promote green energy. It is not a secret that Kazakhstan’s economy is currently heavily reliant on ‘dirty’ energy such as coal, oil, and natural gas. As developed countries around the world know all too well from their own experience, Kazakhstan, as a developing nation, had no choice but to utilize fossil fuels to build its economy after the country gained independence 30 years ago. Our growth has been a success story – Kazakhstan is the most developed country in Central Asia with an upper-middle-income economy and a rising middle class.

But these accomplishments came at a heavy price to the environment. Kazakhstan is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in Central Asia and the 14th in the world. The carbon intensity of Kazakhstan’s GDP is two times higher than the world average and three times higher than the EU. We are therefore well aware that the time has come to transition to low greenhouse gas emissions. Just as many other countries, Kazakhstan is highly vulnerable to climate change, especially as we are a landlocked state. The median annual temperature has increased 2°C in the last 75 years with serious droughts now striking twice every five years. Kazakhstan, as one of the world’s leading producers of wheat and flour, may also lose almost 40 percent of wheat yields by 2030 if the current negative climate change trajectory continues. We are therefore ready and determined to contribute to the overall reduction in global emissions.

The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has pledged full decarbonization of Kazakhstan’s economy by 2060. Tokayev has also instructed the government to bring the share of renewable energy in the nation’s total energy grid to 15 percent by 2030. These are highly ambitious targets, but Kazakhstan has been blessed with large-scale wind and solar irradiation potential, as roughly 50% of the country’s territory has average wind speeds of 4 to 6 meters per second – suitable for energy generation. We also have specific initiatives in place that will help us to achieve our objective. They have been outlined in Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality doctrine, which is scheduled to be presented in Glasgow during COP26. They include abandoning new coal-fired generation projects and phasing out of coal combustion by 2025, planting two billion trees by the same year, doubling renewable energy sources in total energy balance by 2030, 100 percent sorting of municipal solid waste by 2040, the introduction of green hydrogen, and other measures.

At the legislative level, Kazakhstan’s new environmental legislation was rolled out in July this year. The code will promote biodiversity, establish tariffs to encourage renewable energy source development, and implement emissions caps for Kazakhstan’s top 50 carbon emitters.

While the road to carbon neutrality will undoubtedly be challenging, it’s worth noting concrete achievements that ought to raise trust that Kazakhstan can achieve its goal. Until three years ago, renewables accounted for just 1 percent of Kazakhstan’s power mix. As of last year, that amount had tripled. In a space of six years, Kazakhstan has increased its renewable energy capacity sixfold, to around 2,000 megawatts in 2021, which means Kazakhstan is well underway to reaching a 15 percent share of renewables in energy generation by 2030. In addition, since the beginning of 2011, the number of renewable energy facilities in Kazakhstan has grown from 23 to 111. Last year, 25 renewable energy infrastructure projects were launched, mainly wind and solar power plants, adding 600 megawatts of capacity. Many more are planned for the foreseeable future. One of them – the Zhanatas 100 MW wind farm in southern Kazakhstan – which is currently being constructed, will be one of the largest wind farms in the region.

Wide-ranging societal and economic changes are necessary to achieve the climate target of the Paris Agreement, including a dramatic structural change to the economy, trade, and production bases. We must be ready to accept short-term struggles for the long-term survival of our planet. Of course, tackling climate change is a global effort requiring the participation of all states. This includes ensuring access to green financing and green technologies, as well as a commitment from other states to strive for carbon neutrality too. We hope that such pledges can be reached at COP26.

The momentum for global decarbonization is here, and Kazakhstan has the political will and vision to lead the way in Central Asia. Our planet will fall apart without decisive action. We are not prepared to let this happen.

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