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June 14, 2013

Kazakhstan: From Coal to Clean Energy?

Why is Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major oil producing countries, with 3 percent of recoverable oil reserves within its borders and an energy sector dominated by coal, going green? Because it makes economic sense, it is good for growth, it will create jobs, and it will reduce carbon emissions.

In 2008, the United Nations Development Program found that coal-fired power made up the majority of Kazakhstan’s energy sector, but just five years later the country is prepared to make a seismic shift. Last week, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced a program to devote 1 percent of the country’s GDP towards slashing coal's share of the energy portfolio from 80 percent to less than 50 percent by 2030, replacing it with wind, sun and hydropower. This effort will not only help preserve Kazakhstan’s environment and conserve its resources, but also use Kazakhstan’s geographic location between Europe and Asia to position the nation as an international environmental and trade leader. By leading the green revolution, Kazakhstan can grow its GDP by 3 percent annually through 2050 and add 600,000 new jobs.

As part of this effort to build a green economy, Kazakhstan will host the EXPO-2017 World Fair to connect with new technologies and companies. European businesses are eager to invest in the country’s expanding green sector and work with local communities to build innovated energy solutions, as noted by the leader of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan, Aurelia Bouchez, in an interview on the lead up to EXPO-2017. But there is no need to wait for 2017 to roll around. At last month’s Astana Economic Forum, Boris Ryabov noted that “by 2017, solar and wind power will be cheaper than other sources,” including coal. Thus it makes perfect sense that Kazakhstan, despite its vast fossil fuel resources, is putting serious weight behind renewable energy and efficiency.

But Kazakhstan is not only looking to make changes internally; President Nazarbayev is pushing the international community to address climate change. At Rio+210, Nazarbayev extended the “Green Bridge” proposal to link major institutions, investors and governments around a common goal of sustainable growth. By undertaking this new plan to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power and ramp up clean energy, Kazakhstan is showing it is willing to back up words with actions. And given that Kazakhstan has a plethora of opportunities to develop fossil fuel resources, their message that green solutions offer better environmental, social, and economic outcomes is that much more powerful.

-- Chris Chaulk, Sierra Club International Campaign Intern

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