Reducing temperatures: Kazakhstan takes action against climate change

May 12, 2023
Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Maral Rakhimzhanova

In December 2022, Kazakhstan presented a Climate Change Action Report. The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme in Kazakhstan and of the Global Environment Facility, prepared specific documents on this topic – the Eighth National Communication and the Fifth Biennial Report. These provide insight into how the country is responding to climate change.

Сlimate change in Kazakhstan 

According to the report, the climate of Kazakhstan is getting hotter: in comparison with the period 1961-1990, in 1991-2020 the annual temperature on the territory of the republic increased by 0.9°C. There is a steady rise in the number of days with temperatures above 30-35°C, which is particularly evident in the south, southwest and west of the country. As a result of climate change, heatwaves in Kazakhstan are on the rise. For instance, in 2020, the temperature reached a record high above the climate standard of 1.92°C, which updated the previous record for 2013 with the indicator 1.89°C.

Climate change has negative impacts in several areas – on human-beings, on biodiversity and on different economic sectors. There are two modes of action to cope with climate change: the first is to reduce greenhouse gas, the second is to adapt to the current situation and changes. 

Greenhouse gasses reduction strategies 

According to the report, in 2018, Kazakhstan's total greenhouse gas emissions totalled 401,662 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, higher than the 1990 reference year level. It is comparable to the emissions that about 80 million cars could produce in a year.

Emissions in the energy sector fell over the following two years. Thus, the country's total emissions in 2020 were 351,244 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, 7.98 percent lower than the 1990 level.

The main regulatory instrument for the country's climate policy is the Environment Code, adopted in 2021. It sets up a market mechanism, namely an emissions trading system that demands an annual reduction of 1.5 percent by 2030. 

Apart from the Environmental Code, Kazakhstan has developed a legislative framework that enables it to take the necessary measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Concept for the Transition of the Republic of Kazakhstan to “Green Economy” for 2021-2030 (Action Plan for 2021-2030), the Concept for the Development of the Fuel and Energy Sector of Kazakhstan by 2030, and others. Within these instruments, key actions in the heat and power sector that impact emissions include increasing the share of natural gas and of renewable and nuclear energy sources. 

The completion of the construction of the "Saryarka" gas pipeline in 2019 and the conversion of the heating system in Astana to natural gas, the decision to build a nuclear power plant and the creation of renewable energy (RES) facilities are evidence of these measures. Kazakhstan had 115 renewable energy facilities with a total capacity of 1,897 MW by 2021. The RES included hydro, wind, solar and biogas plants. Accordingly, renewable energy accounted for 3.5 percent of the total energy resources.

The above-mentioned policies  in the heat and power sector in the report also focus on other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, land use, waste management, transport, housing and utilities and industrial processes.

Adaptation to climate change

Regardless of current actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the climate has changed and will continue to do so. The result can be both positive and negative. For example, global warming is expected to increase sunflower yields by 8 percent by 2030 and by 4 percent by 2050. 

However, experts recognize that climate change harms most of the economic sectors. Minimizing damage requires ongoing assessments and adaptation to likely climate change in the short-, medium- and long-term.

To that end, the Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, adopted in January 2021, includes a section on public administration in the field of adaptation to climate change to mitigate and reduce the adverse consequences and damage to human health, environmental systems, society and the economy; a section on reducing vulnerability to climate change; and one on using favourable opportunities associated with climate change. Four sectors of the economy ­– agriculture, water and forestry, and civil security – are priorities for adaptation to climate change.

Examples of climate change impact assessments and proposed adaptive measures are included in the report, for instance, rangelands. As of 1 January 2021, 97.2 percent of agricultural land consists of arable land, including arable land - 23.8 percent, perennial plantations - 0.1 percent, reservoir - 1.7 percent, hay - 2.0 percent and rangeland - 69.6 percent.

The area of rangeland amounted to 186.4 million hectares in 2017. Of these, 6 million hectares are used by land users of other states. There are 180.4 million hectares of pastures in republican use, of which 5.9 million hectares were upgraded and 105.2 million hectares were flooded. As a result, more than 111.1 million hectares of pasture are suitable for grazing. Of the 180.4 million hectares, 71.1 million hectares are currently used, including improved ones - 4.0 million hectares, and flooded ones - 43.3 million hectares.

Since global warming has a greater impact on mountain pastures, it is expected that yields will decrease significantly. For instance, in the Assy region yields are expected to decrease by 20 per cent by 2030.

To mitigate these adverse impacts of climate change, the report proposes the following key adaptation measures for rangelands:

  1. Compliance with the provisions of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan «On pastures».

  2. Improvement of vegetation cover in degraded pastures.

  3. Pasture irrigation and estuarine irrigation.

  4. Introduction of a system regulating the grazing of animals.

  5. Restoration of the grazing system for keeping animals.

  6. Improvement of the system of monitoring pastures and of agrometeorological support of pasture livestock.

In conclusion, one should emphasize that this review contains only a small portion of the information provided in the report. To date, the report provides the most comprehensive picture of the status of greenhouse gas emissions, sets forth projections of climate change in Kazakhstan and highlights mitigation and adaptation policies and measures. Studying and disseminating this information will contribute to developing Kazakhstan's capacity to combat climate change. A complete version of the paper is available on the UNFCCC website.