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Addressing climate change cannot be delayed

13 January 2022 09:00

NUR-SULTAN. KAZINFORM - While countries around the world are struggling to reduce their carbon emissions, the impact of climate change remains hardly unseen. Frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers are just a few examples of climate change, but with a lack of decisive actions, the damage could be bigger. What is the climate change impact in Kazakhstan is in the latest analytical article of Kazinform.

Kazakhstan’s ambitious pledges

Kazakhstan sets ambitious climate change pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 as part of the nation’s new national climate change plan.

«In this challenging context, on behalf of all Kazakh citizens, I wish today to reaffirm our strong commitment to fighting climate change and our intent as a nation and government to take increasingly bold targeted action under the Paris agreement. In that spirit, we pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. To reach the goal, Kazakhstan will develop and adopt an ambitious long-term development strategy to lower emissions and decarbonize our economy,» said President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in a video address to the Climate Ambitions Summit in December 2020 where he announced the commitment.

As a landlocked and developing country, Kazakhstan remains very vulnerable to climate change. It is the largest carbon dioxide emitter in the region of Central Asia and the 14th in the world. But it also leads the region in terms of climate change measures.

Under the Paris agreement, Kazakhstan submitted a nationally determined contribution to achieving an economy-wide target of 15 percent-25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. At the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2020, Kazakhstan reaffirmed its commitment to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources by 5 times from 3 percent to 15 percent by 2030, increase its carbon sequestration potential by planting over two billion trees and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.

Why does it matter and what causes climate change?

As the population is growing rapidly worldwide, the ability of the planet to meet the needs of this growing population is under stress. The largest driver of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions, primarily released when fossil fuels are burnt. Over the years, Kazakhstan, having rich oil and gas resources, relied heavily on fossil fuels that generated nearly 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s total electricity.

Latest UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) Emissions Gap Report concluded that new and updated nationally determined contributions only take 7.5 percent off predicted 2030 emissions, while 55 percent is needed to meet the 1.5°C Paris goal.

«Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem,» said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. «To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.»

In terms of temperatures, based on long-term observations of Kazhydromet, the average annual increase in air temperature in the territory of Kazakhstan is 0.34 degrees Celsius every 10 years. In the west and south of Kazakhstan there is a tendency to increase the number of very hot days with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius by four to eight days every 10 years.

Impact of climate change on Kazakhstan

According to Yakup Beris, UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Resident Representative, agriculture, water resources, grazing lands, and forests suffer most from climate change.

«More than 50 percent of the current glacier mass is expected to be lost by 2100, and climate-related disasters such as mudflows, floods, and droughts have increased in frequency and scale, a trend expected to continue in the next decade. Climate change is projected to cause a steep decrease in water resources (up to 22 percent) by 2100, leading to water stress in all of the country’s eight basins. Kazakhstan is a major supplier of wheat, but yields are expected to decrease by between 13 and 49 percent by 2050,» said Beris during the plenary session on international cooperation in the fight against climate change of ECOJER International Congress in June 2021.

As agriculture is the key sector in the country’s economy, experts stress the urgent need for the right strategy to adapt to climate change. Being also one of the largest exporters of wheat and flour, failure to adapt the sector to climate change consequences would undermine food security not only of Kazakhstan, but that of the entire region.

According to the UNDP estimates, by 2030 spring wheat yields in the seven major agricultural producing regions (Akmola, Aktobe, West Kazakhstan, Karaganda, Kostanai, Pavlodar, and North Kazakhstan regions) will be 63-87 percent of its current level, and in 2050 conditions - 51-80 percent.

«This means that with preservation of existing agricultural practices at present stage, yield capacity of spring wheat will be reduced by 13-37 percent by 2030, which will lead to reduction of harvested area by 23-81 percent, at those direct economic losses in sector will amount to 456.93 billion tenge in prices of 2019. And by 2050 wheat yield losses will be 20-49 percent, which will lead to losses of gross output in the sector to 608.19 billion tenge in 2019 prices,» said UNDP.

Impact of climate change on biodiversity

Climate change, along with human actions, among other things, also leads to a reduction in the area of natural ecosystems, a decrease in animal populations, and changes in the composition of the soil and vegetation cover.

All natural transformations also affect forest ecosystems of Kazakhstan. Forests of the republic occupy an area of 12.5 million hectares, being a home for thousands of species of animals and plants, which play an important role in the ecosystem of the country. However, the negative impact caused by climate change and human activities can already be reduced today. Through joint efforts and the use of modern methods of monitoring ecosystem resources, mankind has a real opportunity to achieve significant results in nature conservation.

Work in renewable energy

Developing renewable energy remains on the top of the list of measures that can decrease the adverse effects of climate change by providing energy without the planet-warming effects of fossil fuels.

Experts repeatedly note the significant, yet untapped, potential of the country in tapping into renewable energy.

«Central Asia has great untapped renewable energy resources: hydropower, biomass, geothermal, wind, and solar. Energy efficiency and green hydrogen will also play an important role in decarbonization,» said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Europe and the CIS.

In 2020, 25 renewable energy projects with a total capacity of almost 600 MW were commissioned with the volume of investments exceeding $510 million. By the end of 2021, 22 projects with a total capacity of 450 MW were commissioned with $445 million in investments.

Over the next four years, Kazakhstan plans to commission over 60 renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 2,400 MW and investment of more than $2.5 billion, and by 2030, Kazakhstan plans to commission more than 180 renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 9 GW.

Challenges moving forward

For Kazakhstan, the task is now to learn balance sustainable development and economic growth.

«For Kazakhstan, the key challenge is to combine decarbonization with growth. In other words, Kazakhstan needs to pursue an inclusive, market-based economic growth model that is based on efficient and sustainable use of natural resources. If implemented well, it can unlock opportunities for greater innovation and investment and by so doing create jobs for the future,» said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia. The bank has worked extensively with Kazakhstan providing technical advice to the government on reducing emissions and meeting its targets.

But getting financing to ensure green transition also remains a challenge. Ability to combine public and private investments well will benefit Kazakhstan in the long-term, according to Mirjana Spoljaric Egger. These include such mechanisms, as carbon offsetting, energy efficiency subsidies, loan guarantee schemes, and green bonds.

«On public funding, more effective domestic resource allocation through the national budget, which prioritizes sustainable and low-carbon infrastructure, should be high on the agenda. This is why UNDP is calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies as the critical step to divest from fossil fuels and invest in both people and the planet,» she said.

Article by Assel Satubaldina