Central Asia, with Kazakhstan at its heart, has emerged as a beacon of hope in the global green energy revolution. Showcasing the region’s immense potential, the Astana International Forum unveiled powerful sessions dedicated to illuminating the role of Kazakhstan and Central Asia in shaping the sustainable energy landscape. Against the backdrop of mounting geopolitical pressures, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emphasized the need for collaboration and alignment in his address, stating, “Only by meeting together, taking counsel together, being mutually honest about our problems, our concerns, and our hopes, can the international community address these issues and shape our shared future.”
Two among the forum’s key sessions delved into the realm of renewables and carbon market development, shedding light on the challenges and opportunities inherent in transitioning to renewable energy sources. Aida Sitdikova, the Director Energy for Eurasia, Middle East and Africa, Sustainable Infrastructure Group at the EBRD, took the stage, spotlighting Kazakhstan’s strategic geographical advantage and abundant renewable energy resources. With vast potential in solar and wind power generation, as well as opportunities in clean nuclear energy and hydrogen production, Kazakhstan has the ability to position itself as a trailblazing renewable energy hub, driving progress towards global climate targets.
After the EBRD Director’s words, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, the CEO of Masdar, echoed the need for Central Asian countries to diversify their energy mix, liberating themselves from the clutches of fossil fuels. Recognizing the historical reliance on hydrocarbons in the region, Al Ramahi emphasized the importance of embracing clean energy sources and seizing the opportunity to lead the charge in decarbonization and electrification efforts.
Kazakhstan holds the key to unlocking its local manufacturing potential, positioning itself as a true powerhouse in the clean energy revolution. Recognizing the importance of nurturing the leaders of tomorrow, the country must invest in education, funding schools that cultivate the skilled workforce required for the green economy, as true wealth lies not only in clean energy resources but also in the capabilities and expertise of its people.
While Kazakhstan sets ambitious targets, including its Nationally Determined Contributions, challenges persist due to its reliance on coal and fluctuating energy prices. Overcoming these barriers requires the government’s acknowledgment of the need for robust financing mechanisms that account for inflation and commodity price fluctuations. The rapid expansion of wind and solar power necessitates comprehensive infrastructure development, addressing constraints through blended financing models. Fostering a broader policy environment entails propping up carbon prices and establishing robust verification systems, underpinning emission trading and ensuring transparent data.
During the forum, Laura Altinger from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) drew attention to the unique opportunity for Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries to adopt sustainable energy policies and frameworks. The energy transition not only brings environmental benefits but also provides social advantages and job opportunities in manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure. However, the transition is a complex undertaking, and it is crucial to support citizens most impacted by the shift. Reliance on fossil fuels has led to severe public health issues, particularly in Central Asia, where air quality is among the worst globally. For successful transitions, it must be ensured that no one is left behind: social dialogue, involving all stakeholders, is thus essential to design policies that effectively assist affected communities.
Amidst the symphony of the green energy transition, Tim Yeo, the chairman of the New Nuclear Watch Institute, issued a resolute warning against overreliance on gas and oil imports, while underscoring the pivotal role of nuclear power as a complementary force alongside renewables. With its abundance of uranium reserves, Kazakhstan stands poised to emerge as a global leader in both the nuclear and renewable energy sectors, electrifying its energy landscape.
The session on the green energy transition emphasized the significance of collaboration and regional integration in Central Asia. Joshua Lincoln, a visionary social scientist, set the stage and recognized that our collective future is at stake, with a looming climate disaster threatening to engulf us. But the tide is turning, and countries, companies, and cities are steering their metaphorical ships away from the treacherous rocks of unsustainability. It’s not just one ship changing course. It’s approximately 200 ships representing countries, and tens of thousands more representing companies and cities. This shift is driven by a dual sense of self-preservation and competition. The realization has dawned that embracing sustainability is not only essential for survival but also presents an opportunity for progress and prosperity.
“We can do it; we can achieve what we signed. We are all optimistic,” declared Al Ramahi during the session on renewables and carbon market development in the context of carbon neutrality. As the world will soon converge on Dubai, the winds of change sweep away the inertia of empty promises and mere complaints. COP28 symbolizes a resounding call for tangible solutions and concrete actions.
Beyond the stage, the Astana International Forum served as a captivating bazaar of ideas, where investments transformed into reality, propelling Kazakhstan and Central Asia to the forefront of the global renewable energy revolution.
The author is a soon-to-be graduate in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from LUISS University in Rome. Canuto focuses on international relations, geopolitics, international law, and economic development.