Since 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan has been actively working to improve legislation to implement the ecosystem approach to natural resource management and the economic mechanisms of environmental management. The aim is to balance economic activities while safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems.
UNDP’s work has been carried out within the framework of the Global BIOFIN Programme and in partnership with the Committee of Environmental Regulation and Control and the Committee of Forestry and Fauna of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the Ministry).
UNDP’s recommendations are reflected in the Forest Code of Kazakhstan, in the Law “On Strictly Protected Natural Areas”, passed in 2017, and in the new Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan which was signed by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on 2 January 2021.
These documents include legal norms aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, based on the principle of equitable distribution of natural benefits and access to them. They include compensation for biodiversity losses, voluntary payments for ecosystem services, principles of sustainable ecotourism and the responsibilities of the Ministry for the development and approval of methods for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and uptake, including for the forest sector.
Compensation for biodiversity losses from economic activity
Compensation for biodiversity losses is the measurable result of activities carried out to compensate for residual damage to biodiversity caused by infrastructure projects that cannot be prevented, minimized or mitigated. Accordingly, the compensation mechanism is a series of four-step measures that allows planning and preventing negative impacts on biological diversity and natural ecosystems.
Under the new Environmental Code of Kazakhstan, during the strategic environmental and impact assessments on the environment, the following actions will be undertaken:
1. The negative impacts of projects on biodiversity will be identified through research.
2. Measures to avoid and minimize the negative impacts on biodiversity and to mitigate such impacts will be established.
3. In case of detection of risk of biodiversity loss – an assessment of the loss of biodiversity will be carried out and measures to compensate for them provided. Measures to compensate for the loss of biodiversity are subject to mandatory implementation. Thus, in practice, the use of the compensation mechanism will increase the environmental responsibility of companies implementing infrastructure projects.
Ecosystem services – manifold benefits to humans from natural environment
Currently, the world is actively developing themes related to ecosystem services, including their assessment and the identification of suppliers and consumers of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from ecosystems, both through direct use and from the availability of ecosystems, for example, clean air provided by the availability of forests or provisioning services such as food and water.
An example is the total cost of ecosystem services of wild plant-pollinator interactions globally for 100 major agricultural food crops, which is estimated at EUR153 billion per year and accounting for 9.4. percent of the world's agricultural production of food.
The new edition of the Environmental Code of Republic of Kazakhstan also includes standards for research in the field of the economic assessment of ecosystem services and biodiversity, one of the areas of scientific environmental research that can be financed from the state budget. Earlier UNDP conducted research to determine the value of ecosystem services of the Karkaraly National Park (2012) and the Ile-Balkhash Nature Reserve (2016).
The results of the assessment of the value of ecosystem services allow us to predict their quality for many years to come, and already today optimal decisions are made on of public spending on ecosystem restoration in the future.
Meanwhile, the quality of ecosystem services depends on all those who use ecosystems, receiving economic benefits from them, for example, lakes, rivers, forests. The payment mechanism for ecosystem services approved in the new Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan is voluntary. Nevertheless, it provides an opportunity to identify suppliers and consumers of ecosystem services, to create a market for ecosystem services and to significantly expand funding for biodiversity and ecosystem protection measures.
Ecotourism – conserving the environment, sustaining well-being of local people
Assistance to Kazakhstan in developing its ecotourism was provided within the framework of UNDP pilot projects for many years and they have created many jobs in the regions. It is a methodological framework that allows us to streamline the development of tourism in Strictly Protected Natural Areas (SPNA). It also involves green technologies that allow for the creation of infrastructure to attract tourists.
Over the past two years, UNDP has been working to develop incentives at the national level for the development of ecotourism. To that end, the new Environmental Code establishes mandatory principles of ecotourism based on environmental requirements for the use of protected areas and recreational lands.
These principles include the following obligations: (1) to match the number of tourists with recreational areas; (2) to avoid harming the environment; (3) to environmentally friendly vehicles for transporting tourists (4) to collect solid waste; (5) to inform tourists about safety measures and (6) to involve the local population in the organization and conduct of eco-tours to obtain economic benefits for them.
Potential of forests to absorb greenhouse gases
Since 2016, UNDP has been focusing on the potential of forests to absorb greenhouse gases.
The experts appreciated the potential of CO2 uptake by Kazakhstan's forests, which showed the relevance of the role of forests in fulfilling the country's international climate obligations, and UNDP launched a pilot project to compensate for CO2 emissions from unaccounted forests with the participation of the global blockchain company, The Bitfury.
Nevertheless, the current legal and methodological frameworks were insufficient for the implementation of forest carbon projects. In that regard, the Ministry supported the UNDP proposal to adopt a methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and absorption, including by forests. The new Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan assigns the function of developing and approving this document to the Ministry. In 2020, this methodology was developed by UNDP for the forest sector and approved by the Ministry.
Changing the Environmental Code of Kazakhstan in order to strengthen the sense of responsibility for protecting nature and creating new mechanisms for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is a great achievement. It confirms a clear appreciation of the "finiteness" of natural capital and the need for a mindful attitude towards its use in order to protect biodiversity.