Transforming Urban Spaces: Need for Climate-Resilient Governance, Sustainable Urbanization in Central Asia

In the heart of Central Asia where rapid urbanization meets the challenges of climate change, lies a pivotal opportunity for transformation. Transition economies in this region are experiencing unprecedented urban growth. However, many remain too vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In the face of this challenge, a paradigm shift is essential. It is not just about building cities; it’s about building resilient and sustainable urban spaces that can withstand the climate challenges of the future.

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Due to its geographic constraints, Central Asia is vulnerable to the rising negative impacts of climate crisis, especially water shortages in its urban areas. But this crisis is widespread. Almost half of the world’s 482 largest cities will face water shortages by 2050, underscoring the severity of the situation

Amina Chaia

The rapid urbanization in Central Asian cities, particularly evident in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, highlights the pressing issues arising from migration influx and large-scale development. As reported by the monitoring group Energyprom, Astana has overwhelmed existing infrastructure, especially water supply systems. In addition, Astana’s booming construction industry has led to the swift development of residential complexes. 

This situation underscores a broader issue: the infrastructural development of these cities simply cannot keep up with the burgeoning population expansion. Astana’s story is not unique; it mirrors the challenges faced in other Central Asian urban centers. For instance, Uzbekistan, despite being the regional significant economic force, confronted severe challenges in its energy system during the harsh winter last December.

The situation in these urban centers raises a pressing question: How can cities prepare for the impacts of rapid urbanization and climate change simultaneously? These issues demand more than just ad-hoc solutions. They necessitate climate-resilient governance strategies.

Climate resilience encompasses five essential capacities or pillars, each playing a vital role in a community’s ability to adapt and respond effectively to climate change challenges. These pillars include threshold capacity (safeguarding against environmental variations) coping recovery (a country’s preparedness to handle extreme weather conditions), recovery capacity (ensuring a robust recovery process); adaptive (proactive planning for climate change); and transformative capacities (broad stakeholder involvement to shift toward a climate-resilient society). 

Understanding and enhancing these five capacities within cities are crucial steps in building resilient communities that can effectively navigate the climate-related challenges. 

As Central Asian countries continue to face significant shifts in population dynamics, characterized by a notable increase in urbanization rates, various issues emerge, including  increased demand for housing, energy, and transportation. All of this is putting immense strain on resources and causing environmental degradation. Given these challenges, it is imperative to adopt an all-encompassing and holistic approach to climate policies. Policies must transcend traditional boundaries, addressing not only environmental concerns but also the interconnections between agriculture, urban planning, health, energy, education, and transportation sectors. 

Active community engagement is also a critical factor for fostering climate resilience in governance. When communities are actively involved, there is a wealth of local knowledge and insight that can be tapped into. Moreover, engaging with residents not only raises awareness about climate change, but also ensures that policies are tailored to meet their specific needs. Communities are often the first responders during climate-related disasters and involving them in decision-making processes can lead to more effective disaster preparedness and response strategies.

In the light of the upcoming COP28, policy makers should pay attention to new challenges associated with rapid urbanization and climate change in emerging economies, such as Central Asian republics. A fundamental paradigm shift toward climate-resilient governance is imperative. This transformation necessitates a comprehensive focus on the five key capacities—threshold, coping, recovery, adaptive, and transformative—to enable communities and societies to effectively address climate-related adversities.

To navigate this, embracing climate-resilient governance and interdisciplinary policies is essential. Active community engagement, harnessing local knowledge, and tailored disaster preparedness strategies are key. COP28 provides an opportunity to forge a sustainable, resilient future in the region.

The author is a researcher at Nazarbayev University’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (NU SDSN).  She holds a master’s degree in public policy from NU and completed a fellowship at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO) in Germany, focusing on climate change research. She also participated in the Young Leadership Program (YouLP) organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Kazakhstan in 2022. Amina graduated from Middle East Technical University (METU) in 2019 with a major in Political Science and Public Administration.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Astana Times. 

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