Forests of Kazakhstan: a natural treasure to safeguard and nurture for future generations

March 17, 2022

Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

Forests are an important part of ecosystems and a prerequisite for life on Earth. Forests are crucial to biodiversity, they maintain the livelihood of most plant and animal species, many of which are endangered. Moreover, forests are the main source of livelihood for millions of people, contributing to economic growth and employment.

Why forests are important

Healthy forests are vital to the ecosystem – human and animal. For example, in low-income countries, forests are an important ally in the fight against poverty and hunger. The growth of the economy and the well-being of the rural community depend directly on the  sustainable use of forest resources, e.g. for foodstuffs, fodders, houses, medicines. The use of forests’ biodiversity for development of ecotourism also has a positive impact on the well-being of rural communities. For example, 8 billion visits to protected natural areas in the world occur in places covered by forests. In addition, forests are the habitat of millions of species of wildlife.

The main threats

The forest area has continued to decline over the past 20 years. In 2020, the tropics lost more than 12 million hectares of tree cover, which is 12 percent more than in 2019. The main threats are associated with anthropogenic human activity. The increasing global population, deforestation to expand agriculture and infrastructure and frequent fires are the driving force behind deforestation, forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity. Currently, land degradation affects 3.2 billion people worldwide, 40 percent of the world's poorest people live on land that is classified as degraded. This directly affects human well-being and threatens a wide range of plants and animal species.

Forests in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a country with a low percentage of forest cover. According to the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, in January 2022, forests covered 5 percent of the country's territory and their area is 13.6 million hectares. Almost half of them are saxaul. In general, due to the efforts aimed at forest protection, their restoration and sustable use, recent years has seen a tendency to increase the land under forests in Kazakhstan.

Forests are a valuable resource in the fight against climate change

Today, on a global scale, forests help maintain Earth's carbon balance. However, the felling of trees and frequent fires cause carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which had led tothe processes of climate change and to an increase in the average annual temperature on the Earth.

According to the Report of the International Research Project Global Carbon Project, in 2021, carbon dioxide emissions in the world increased by 4.9 percent and amounted to 36.7 billion tons.

In addition to absorbing greenhouse gases, forests are a natural protective barrier against natural disasters, helping to form more sustainable landscapes by regulating the water regime and preventing soil erosion.

Reducing the carbon footprint in Kazakhstan

According to the Paris Agreement, the participating countries have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to implementing projects to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Kazakhstan intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent before 2030. In 2020, the Government of Kazakhstan jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the international IT company, Bitfury, launched a project to reduce the carbon footprint by preserving existing forests and increasing their area. In 2020-2021, the project identified 67,000 hectares of unaccounted forests in the mountainous regions of East Kazakhstan region and 47,000 hectares in the Pavlodar region, which are planned to be included in the state forest fund for their protection by state and private forest owners.

An additional step in the implementation of the initiative will be the creation of area of green spaces in Pavlodar region and the development of carbon projects aimed at absorbing CO2 by forming forests that have arisen following cessation of agricultural activities, as well as forests excluded from the state forest fund.

According to preliminary calculations of experts, in 1990-2020, the unaccounted forests of the East Kazakhstan region absorbed almost 6 million tons of CO2 equivalent and the estimate of CO2 absorption for 2020-2070 is more than 4.6 tons of CO2 equivalent.

Protecting forests for the next generation

To date, Kazakhstan is taking steps to restore forests as part of the country's transition to a "green" economy. One such project is a joint initiative of UNDP, the Global Environment Facility and the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan to prevent deforestation and forest degradation, to protect forests from fires and from other natural and anthropogenic threats.

The project is devoting special attention to the development of specially protected natural areas and the strengthening of the material-technical base of environmental institutions. In the period from 2018 to date, work is underway to provide environmental organizations of the country with special fire-fighting equipment, including 16 UAZ patrol cars, 4 UAZ-Farmer small forest fire complexes, 3 quads that allow one to quickly reach places under threat. Due to new technologies, such as drones, employees of 14 specially protected areas and forestry enterprises have the opportunity to monitor natural areas and plan environmental protection measures.

Today, there are many reasons to protect forests. They serve as a major reminder how beautiful and fragile the natural world can be. The preservation of forests and their restoration requires joint efforts and decisive actions. Therefore, humanity needs to reduce the pressure on nature for a sustainable future for all.