Kazakhstan’s transition to a “green economy”: aims and problems

Abstract. The peculiarities of Kazakhstan’s geographical location, in conjunction with the niche it occupies in the international division of labor, create, on the one hand, risks for Eurasian ecological safety and on the other hand, an environmental vulnerability for the Republic itself. Analysis of the results of the implementation in Kazakhstan of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) show that, against the impressive results achieved, improvement of the climate is still of current interest. In 2013, in an effort to reduce environmental risks and the reliance of the national economy on fossil-energy resources, Kazakhstan began its transition to a “green economy”. One of the key directions of “green economy” development is the introduction of renewable energy sources (RES). At the same time, the involvement of RES in the process of supplying power for meeting Kazakhstan’s demands raises a number of challenges, addressing which is the task in the short to medium-term.

Assessment of the current situation.

The peculiarities of Kazakhstan’s geographical location, in conjunction with the niche it occupies in the international division of labor, create, on the one hand, risks for Eurasian ecological safety; and on the other hand, an environmental vulnerability for the Republic itself. Analysis of the results of the implementation in Kazakhstan of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) show that against the impressive results achieved, improvement of the climate is still of current interest.

Climate change is recognized as one of the major environmental problems in Kazakhstan. In particular, among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Republic is in second place for the total level of organic pollution produced. There is a high level of air pollution in the cities and the level of concentration of solid particles is dozens of times higher than the same indicators in the European Union. [1] In 2014, the total greenhouse gas emissions in CO2-equivalent terms amounted to 338.5 million tonnes. CO2 emissions amounted to 243.8 million tonnes per year; N2O emissions were 17.0 million tonnes per year; and сн4 emissions were 50.7 million tonnes per year. [2] The biggest air pollutants in Kazakhstan are the stationary sources of heating; nonferrous metallurgy; ferrous metallurgy enterprises; and the oil and gas industry. In 2015, the emissions of pollutants from the stationary sources into the atmospheric air amounted to 2180.0 thousand tonnes per year. Automobiles also have a serious and negative impact on the quality of air in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Because of this, the volume of consumed ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in 2015 was 13.5 tonnes. But it should be noted that this indicator had reduced 44.3 times compared to 2000 (597.9 tonnes in 2000). [3]

An inefficient model of the management of recycling processes remains one of the most urgent problems of Kazakhstan’s ecology. The main sources of industrial-waste generation are mining; the metallurgical industry; oil and gas; and the thermal-power industry. The volume of generated industrial waste increases year by year. In 2015, the hazardous waste per unit of GDP amounted to 588.8 kg/1,000 USD. [4] The management of household waste is also poor. 97% of solid municipal waste finds itself on the uncontrolled dumps and landfills that fail to meet the requirements of sanitary standards. [1]

A very urgent environmental problem in Kazakhstan is the contamination of the environment with oil and its refinery products. More than 1.5 million hectares are contaminated with oil and oil products. [5] Land pollution is also influenced by the fact that the main rivers in Kazakhstan rise largely in the territories of neighboring states, so the quality of water is influenced by pollutants originating in those states. In 2015, water losses amounted to $2,949 million m3, equating to a 12.86% loss. [6]

A study conducted in 2012 recorded the following problematic aspects and risks for Kazakhstan in the field of eco-economic development: [1]

  •  Inefficient use of resources in all major sectors of the economy leads to a loss of profit of between 4 and 8 billion USD per year.
  •  Economic losses incurred as a result of low land-productivity amount to between 1.5 and 4 billion USD per year, which has negative social consequences for the agricultural sector.
  •  Inadequate system of setting tariffs and prices for energy resources fails to incentivise technological improvement in the industry.
  •  Almost one third of agricultural land is degraded or under threat.
  •  There is forecast to be a deficit by 2030 of between 13 to 14 billion m3 of sustainable water resources, necessary for meeting the needs of the economy.
  •  Negative impact of environmental pollution on human health. According to estimates, air pollution is the cause of up to six thousand premature deaths per year.
  •  There is no integrated waste-management system.

The available data suggests that long-term lack of attention in Kazakhstan to the need to construct an ecologically oriented economy has led to the formation of a vicious cycle of negative interference along the “ecology – economy” axis.

Strategic approach and a conceptual understanding of the problem

Despite the absence of a section devoted to the environment in ‘Strategy 2030’, the country’s primary strategic document, it was expected that as a result of that document Kazakhstan would become a “clean and green country with fresh air and clean water”. [7] Greater attention was paid to the issues of building an ecologically oriented economy in ‘Strategy 2050’, adopted in 2012. In addition to issues of national security, economic and social development, which are all traditionally covered by the President’s annual Addresses to the People of Kazakhstan, the Strategy underlines the necessity for creating an ecological mindset. This applies in particular to such sectors as agriculture and resource use.

Agriculture is tasked with becoming global player in the field of cleaner production. Solving this problem is possible only under conditions of sufficient water availability, which in the context of the arid climate zones of Kazakhstan requires a transition to moisture-saving technologies, etc. This strategy involves a change in the mindset of Kazakhstani society. “We must stop wasting water which is one of our most precious natural resources. By 2050, Kazakhstan must once and for all solve the problem of water supply”. [8] In accordance with the strategic development plan, the problem of providing the population with drinking water must be solved by 2020; and the problem of irrigation by 2040.

As for the energy sector, the ‘Kazakhstan – 2050’ strategy document highlights the issue of the gradual increase of the share of alternative energy in total energy consumption. Thechallenge has been issued to actively introduce technologies that use energy from the sun and wind. By 2050, alternative and renewable energy in the country should constitute at least half the total energy consumption. Moreover, the idea of an accelerated transition to a low- carbon economy has been suggested. Providing an impetus to the country’s transition to the “green” path of development has become one of the tasks of the EXPO-2017 exhibition in Astana.

In May 2013, Kazakhstan adopted the Concept of transition to a “green economy”, which is a logical extension of the adopted strategic guidelines of the country’s development.

The Concept outlined the following as the main tasks of the transition to a “green economy”:

  • improving the efficiency of resource use (water, land, biological, etc.) and management;
  • modernization of the existing infrastructure and construction of the new;
  • improving the wellbeing of the population and the quality of the environment through cost-effective methods for mitigating the pressure on the environment;
  • improving national security, including water security.

The Concept identified the following target indicators of a “green economy”: [1]

It is planned to complete the transition to the “green economy” in three phases:

The first phase: 2013-2020. During this period, the main priority of the Government is optimizing the use of resources and enhancing the effectiveness of environmental management, as well as the development of a “green” infrastructure.

The second phase: 2020-2030. Transition of the national economy is to be focused on careful water usage; encouragement and stimulation of development; and dissemination of renewable energy technologies, along with construction of facilities on the basis of high standards of energy efficiency.

The third phase: 2030-2050. Transition of the national economy to the principles of the so-called “third industrial revolution” requiring the use of natural resources, provided they are renewable and sustainable. [1]

Taking into account the fact that, without international cooperation, none of the national efforts can be completely successful and produce the desired effect, Kazakhstan has been promoting its environmentally sensitive initiatives at international level. The ‘Global Energy-Ecological Strategy of Sustainable Development in the 21st century’ and the proposal to develop an international program ‘Water and Right’ for those countries which suffer water shortages [9] are among those initiatives. The “Green Bridge” initiative which was proposed at the APR forum in 2010, and included in the Rio+20 Declaration, was also successful. This initiative is aimed at the creation of a political framework for the transition to a “Green Economy” in the Eurasian area; and in various regions of Europe, Asia and the Pacific Ocean. The program focuses on the need to maintain transnational and cross-sectoral collaboration in the area of technology development and transfer, in fields such as renewable energy resources, water conservation and resource management, waste management and pollution control. [10]

Being focused on the improvement of partnership relations between the Asian- Pacific Region countries and Europe, the “Green Bridge” is aimed at the transition from the current, traditional development models to the “green” growth concept. [11]

Kazakhstan has also assumed its obligation to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. [12]

Problematic issues

In the overall context of the challenges which countries will have to face during the process of national economies transitioning to economic growth which is “green”, it is possible to identify a number of problematic issues which can be both universal and specific to each individual country. This article outlines the narrow range of challenges which are significantly important to Kazakhstan.

The main challenge is universal and derives from the essentials of physics. The discussion on physical limitations and the financial inexpediency of the use of RES with the purpose of obtaining high-capacity energy, which was initiated by P.L. Kapitza in 1975 [13], remains relevant. The imputed core of the problem may be situated within two dimensions – the physical-limitations dimension; and the financial-inexpediency dimension.

On the one hand, within a constantly expanding industrial sector the need for energy supply is also increasing. On the other hand, there are objectively created restrictions to the value of the flux density of energy received from RES. Failure to ensure the energy-flux density required for the industrial sector is, to varying degrees, common to all RES. Despite all the achievements of science and the progress of technology, this fact maintains the current trend of an extensive approach to the increase of volume of energy from RES and this issue moves into the area of financial and economic feasibility.

Today, initial predictions that the capital cost of the establishment of power stations which receive energy from RES would not be reimbursed by the energy generated are being questioned. In particular, the issue of finally overcoming the energy crisis caused by the hydrocarbon fuels runoff is expected to be resolved by the end of this century. [1] Nevertheless, at the current stage of technological development, the cost of the establishment of power stations which take energy from RES is still high; and that reduces their profitability significantly. Moreover, the establishment of “green” power stations and the creation of the components necessary for their operation require high energy costs. At the current stage of technological development, only traditional fossil fuel can provide the necessary volume of energy necessary to establish power stations of the new generation. Thus, in an environment of low density of energy flux produced by RES, finding the scientific and engineering solutions to carry out the process of establishing new-generation power stations becomes a very real problem.

At the same time, it is logical to assume, that the achievement of the target indicators of the Concept on transition of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the “Green Economy” will mostly depend on the establishment of mechanisms for the conversion of household energy to “green” technologies. On the one hand, the volume of electric power we use every day increases constantly because of the industrial sector; and, on the other hand, household energy does not require high- energy flux density. However, urbanized space is marked by a high concentration of the elements, consuming electrical energy. This means that the needs of cities for energy flow density will continually increase.


The following points should be taken into account in order to find solutions to the challenges mentioned above.

First, invention is strongly encouraged in Kazakhstan by virtue of the recognition of its importance for the country’s innovative development. At the same time, it should be taken into account that generated ideas should be built on a serious scientific foundation. This fact makes more pressing the need for more scientific centers and institutions in Kazakhstan, researching such processes as the production, conversion and conservation of energy. In the meantime, the State has an interest in the development of not only applied but of theoretical physics.

Second, at the moment one of the most important objectives is to build an effective scheme of gathering and bringing inventions (ideas) to manufacturing. The absence of a prescribed mechanism acting along “inventor – constructor – technologist” lines prevents synergy.

Third, Kazakhstan’s transition to a “green” economy with growth depends not only on technological progress but also effective management. The development of environmental thinking among the country’s population is an important component of the process.



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Year: 2017
City: Almaty