In 2020 the amounts of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide rose by more than the annual average in the past 10 years. And all this despite the pandemic. “We are accelerating it. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing faster than ever,” said Dr Heather Graven, Reader in Climate Physics, at Imperial College London. 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.
According to the Astana Times, Kazakhstan’s economy is currently heavily reliant on ‘dirty’ energy such as coal, oil, and natural gas. As a developing nation, the country had no choice but to utilize fossil fuels to build its economy after gaining its independence 30 years ago. 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. Just as many other countries, Kazakhstan is highly vulnerable to climate change, especially as the country is 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.
The country is one of the world’s leading producers of wheat and flour, and may lose almost 40 percent of wheat yields by 2030 if the current negative climate change trajectory continues. The country’s leadership understands that urgent action is needed to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and promote green energy.
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 large-scale wind and solar irradiation potential. Roughly 50% of the country’s territory has average wind speeds of 4 to 6 meters per second – suitable for energy generation.
Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality plans 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 of 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.
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. 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, 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. Kazakh society must also be ready to accept short-term changes in lifestyle for the long-term survival of the planet.