As signatories of the Paris Agreement, all five Central Asian states attended the annual Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) on Climate Change held in the United Arab Emirates. Climate change represents a serious threat for these countries affecting not only the environment (namely, the Aral Sea disaster and its progressive drying out) but also relevant economic sectors such as agriculture and water, potential sources of future tensions and conflict in the region.
Central Asian states have pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions under the Paris Agreement and have submitted their national action plans, the nationally determined contributions, NDCs. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are formally committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, respectively through the development of both solar parks and wind farms and of hydropower plants, but also Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have defined very ambitious targets to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increasing production of clean electricity through renewable sources (K. Adylbekova, Central Asia’s Progress at COP 28: Paris Agreement and Climate Policy Review, CABAR, November 30, 2023).
Even if hydrocarbons play a primary role in the Kazakhstan’s energy sector, the country is the frontrunner in the Central Asia energy transition process: as a matter of fact, Kazakhstan appears strongly engaged to mitigate the effects of climate change, through the achievement of specific targets, such as at least 15% electricity generated to be provided by renewable energy sources by 2030, and at least 50% by 2050 (Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, CONCEPT for transition of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Green Economy, 2013).
At present 70% of electricity in the country is produced by coal but the share of renewables has jumped from 3% in 2020 to 6% (A. Kumenov, Kazakhstan: Ambitious renewables agenda setting healthy pace, Eurasianet, December 4, 2023). Kazakhstan benefits of a huge solar and wind potential and several international companies have signed agreements to produce clean electricity: among them, the Italian Eni already realized two wind farms (Badamsha 1 and 2) in the north, while in September 2023 Eni inaugurated its first solar park in southern Kazakhstan (Eni, Eni,our work in Kazakhstan, www.eni.com).
At the COP summit, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov has raised his profile by pledging that Turkmenistan will sign up the Global Methane Pledge, committing the country to voluntarily cut methane emissions by 30%, but the lack of independent information and analysis about gas emissions data as well as the strong dependence on gas exports in terms of economic revenues for the national budget will significantly downplay the relevance of this announcement.
The shared awareness and concerns about the climate change impact in the region has pushed Central Asian states to approve the Regional Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in Central Asia, so recognizing that the regional approach is the best and effective tool to solve climate problems, which normally have a transboundary dimension. In spite of green initiatives and policies, the main and ambitious challenge remains that regional electricity production is mainly based on fossil fuels (coal but also natural gas and oil) and accounts for the largest share of polluting emissions.
In order to increase clean electricity production in the short-medium term will be necessary to attract international and national investments to exploit RES potential, to progressively abandon the lucrative oil and gas sector (mainly for the regional exporters such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and to realize and implement domestic (and potentially regional) grids of clean energy distribution.
PhD in Geopolitics. He is non-resident researcher at the Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea) and analyst at the Observatory for Central Asia and Caspian. He is research fellow at the University of Siena.