UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan: We Are Here to Support, Not to Run

ASTANA — Most of the outstanding initiatives launched in Kazakhstan by the United Nations (UN) were undertaken in collaboration with the Kazakh government and organizations, a partnership that has been key to their success, UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan Michaela Friberg-Storey told The Astana Times.

The full video interview will be available on The Astana Times’ Youtube channel. Photo credit: The Astana Times.

“When you ask what the UN does, I am tempted to give you all these wonderful programs, most of which were realized with the Kazakh authorities, organizations, or civil society. We are here to support, not to run,” said Friberg-Storey.  

Our interview took place on the eve of an important event – the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit – which convenes this September in New York during the High-level Week of the General Assembly. With only seven years left to reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda, the Summit is taking place at a crucial moment for the world, Friberg-Storey said. 

“We are falling behind. This Summit, when the world state leaders will get together, will be an opportunity to create new energy, new political commitment, and new financing to ensure we leave no one behind when we move forward,” said Friberg-Storey. 

Friberg-Storey emphasized that significant additional efforts are needed to accomplish the SDGs. She cited specific areas requiring progress, including gender equality, which could take up to 300 years to achieve; a 33-year gap in life expectancy between different countries; and the concentration of 76% of global wealth in the hands of just 10% of the world’s population.

“The priorities for the UN are the SDGs. They have been signed on by every country in the world. That is what makes them so unique as a global strategy for development,” she said. 

Friberg-Storey emphasized that her work’s primary focus is to support Kazakhstan in reaching the SDGs. She noted that Kazakhstan has shown strong commitment to the SDGs, conducting two voluntary National Reviews to evaluate its progress. According to the most recent review, citizens of Kazakhstan prioritized five key areas for sustainable development: health, quality education, poverty eradication, decent work and economic growth, and clean water and sanitation.

“Interestingly, after three years, citizens of Kazakhstan prioritized almost the same SDGs as in 2019, apart from SDG 1 No Poverty. Three years later, eradication of poverty has become more relevant for residents of Kazakhstan rather than the sustainability of cities and communities,” Friberg-Storey said. 

The UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan emphasized that any progress made is only possible with collaborative efforts from both the UN agencies working in the country and the Kazakh government and private sector. 

“Working in Kazakhstan is a real privilege. Not only is the government very open and very supportive of the UN, but the people of Kazakhstan are enormously hospitable. We have a very strong and very good relationship with civil society. This is something that I would like specifically to develop more to get more insights and meet more people whom we sometimes refer to as grassroots activists, whether in the environmental sector or parent or group for education, whatever it might be, to get a more understanding there,” Friberg-Storey said.

She emphasized that collaboration with the Kazakh government has been crucial for driving change.

“For instance, in the realm of healthcare, the partnership between the UN and the Ministry of Health has led to expanding healthcare access to vulnerable populations, bolstering maternal and child health services, and strengthening health systems. Soon Astana will host the 73rd Regional Committee for Primary Healthcare in October,” Friberg-Storey said. 

She also underscored the importance of private sector engagement in advancing developmental goals. 

“The UN Global Compact initiative, aimed at promoting sustainable business practices, now boasts participation from 42 Kazakh companies. When I initially arrived, only seven companies had committed to these principles. That number has since surged to over 47 and continues to grow. This isn’t solely about environmental sustainability; it also encompasses human issues and rights,” she added.

Friberg-Storey attributed this increase in multi-sectoral involvement to the government’s initiative to foster a more robust dialogue with the people of Kazakhstan.

“I think there have been times of change in Kazakhstan over the past few years. There is a recognition that if you do not engage yourself, there is a chance that things will not develop. I think there is a call to action for everyone, whether a big private company or an individual, to take action to contribute to society. This is what we see a lot when we are out,” she said.

On the subject of climate change, Friberg-Storey acknowledged the complex challenges facing Kazakhstan. “Helping the country balance economic growth with environmental protection, especially in sectors like energy and resource extraction, is no simple task,” she remarked.

“Kazakhstan is rich in natural resources, many of which are not particularly environmentally friendly. Striking a balance is a responsibility that Kazakhstan must shoulder, and it’s an area where we are eager to contribute. While a complete shift away from fossil fuels isn’t currently feasible, there are opportunities to increase the adoption of renewable energies, and we’re committed to supporting Kazakhstan in exploring these options,” she concluded.

Friberg-Storey also emphasized the importance of energy efficiency as part of a broader strategy for sustainable development. More than half of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector of heat and electricity supply of housing stock in Kazakhstan are accounted for heating of premises, she noted.

“For example, the UNDP presented an effective model for financing energy-efficient modernization in pilot multi-apartment residential buildings. This sector is the third largest consumer of heat and electricity after the energy sector and the manufacturing sector and consumes about 11% of electric energy and 40% of the released thermal energy,” she said. 

Friberg-Storey noted that a lot of work is done in assisting farmers and nurturing women’s empowerment that can widen Kazakhstan’s opportunities for economic growth apart from energy-related industries.

“For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is assisting farmers with irrigation systems so as not to waste the scarce resources of water that we have. But it can also be about empowering women. The UN Women have set up science, math, technology, and engineering (STEM) centers across Kazakhstan to promote knowledge among women and support women entrepreneurs to contribute to the economy. We need to make the small and medium enterprises in Kazakhstan more viable,” she concluded. 

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