Kazakh Leadership Reaffirms COP26 Pledge, Hopes to Jolt Economy

8 Desember 2021

During Kazakhstan’s recent Council for Improving Investment Climate, Prime Minister Askar Mamin announced new measures aimed at improving the country’s investment environment in order to better facilitate the absorption of foreign capital in the field of alternative energy.

The meeting took place in the wake of the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which took place in Glasgow last month and during which Kazakhstan pledged to adopt an ambitious plan that will see the Central Asian country become carbon neutral by 2060.

Bolstering investment climate to achieve environmental targets

Last week, the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan hosted a meeting of the Council for Improving Investment Climate. Chaired by prime minister Askar Mamin, the conference brought together several parties to discuss the organizational, legislative and financial aspects of the process of decarbonizing the economy, as pledged during COP26. Topics discussed included the integration of Kazakhstan’s plan to reduce emissions into the country’s economy, the optimization of the energy balance and a further increase in investment earmarked for the development of renewable energy sources.

In addition to Prime Minister Mamin and select cabinet ministers, the meeting was also attended by representatives of international organizations like the IMF, OECD, EBRD and the International Energy Agency, as well as by ambassadors from Italy and the Netherlands. Representatives of private interests, such as the American Chamber of Commerce and the Italian energy company Eni, were also among the participants.

The conference is one of many efforts undertaken by Kazakhstan in recent years to move its economy away from fossil fuels. The Central Asian nation, which has been historically highly dependent on coal for its energy needs, is in the middle of pivoting towards green energy and has outlined ambitious plans for the following decades.

Ongoing transition

Due to both historical and geological factors, Kazakhstan produced virtually no renewable energy until a decade ago, meaning that its transition to green energy requires a dramatic transformation of its industry and economy. The government hopes to achieve this through both short-term and long-term measures.

One of Nur-Sultan’s first priorities is to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources fivefold by the end of the decade, going from today’s 3% share of renewables to 15% of Kazakhstan’s energy mix by 2030. Kazakhstan’s current output of renewable energy comes mainly from small hydropower plants, but expansion plans include building solar, wind and geothermal plants, as well as biomass farms. Long-term plans include the country becoming carbon neutral by 2060, and serving as a Central Asian regional leader in terms of renewable energy.

In order to pull off this ambitious energy transition, the Kazakh government has announced the construction of numerous green energy facilities over the last two years. In 2020 alone, 25 renewable energy projects were commissioned, with a total capacity of almost 600 MW and a total investment of just over half a billion dollars. The encouraging trend was maintained this year, with 22 projects totalling a capacity of 450 MW, receiving the green light and attracting $445 million from investors.

Over $2.5 billion in investment will pour into more than 60 new green energy projects in the next four years, adding a further 2,400 MW to the Kazakh national grid. Policymakers and investors are paying particular attention to the emerging technology of “green hydrogen”, with plans for a mammoth 45 GW project in the works. Kazakh plans to accelerate the green transition go beyond large-scale energy projects, as well—a national project to increase the absorption potential by planting over 2 billion trees by 2025 is currently on track.

Global trouble

Although Kazakhstan’s energy transition has been under way for years, it enjoyed renewed global attention during COP26. The summit, which resulted in fresh pledges concerning the carbon neutral future of the planet, enjoyed heavy media coverage across the globe and was perhaps the most prominent climate conference to date. But at times the attention had less to do with the meeting’s climate goals and more to do with geopolitical wrangling.

Much of the tension came from the distrust between developed and developing countries, with rich nations trying to pressure poorer nations to accelerate their transitions, and emerging economies claiming that wealthy states should increase their financial support of climate causes. Coal was a topic of particular interest, with India and China joining forces to soften the anti-coal language in the final agreement while making the argument that they are champions of less developed nations.

But Kazakhstan’s ambitious targets go to show that India and China are mostly self-serving in their crusade. With a historical dependency on coal and a limited national budget, Kazakhstan is nonetheless setting out a blueprint for green transitions in emerging economies.

Rather than considering it a financial burden, Kazakhstan is treating its green transition as an opportunity to galvanize the economy, attract foreign investment and increase the country’s diplomatic standing. If successful, this former Soviet republic of under 20 million people could serve as an example for some of the world’s largest economies, many of whom lack Kazakhstan’s conviction on the matter.


Image credit: Doug Peters/ UK Government, Creative Commons License 2.0

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