EXPO 2017’s legacy continues to move Kazakhstan, international community toward a greener future

By Assel Satubaldina

Switching to green energy, sustainable development and transitioning to a green economy to save the planet is a top global agenda with the world facing the sobering consequences of climate change and high carbon emissions.

Kazakhstan also seeks to take steps toward these goals realising the challenges are also opportunities. The country’s hosting of EXPO 2017 under the theme Future Energy moved the country closer to that reality and was the result of Kazakhstan’s years-long efforts to seek a renewable energy future.

The country adopted the Concept of Transition to Green Economy in May 2013 in response to the Rio Earth summit that adopted its landmark Agenda 21. The transition document sets a national target to bring the share of renewable energy in Kazakhstan’s energy mix to 30 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050.

In 2014, the then President Nursultan Nazarbayev said development of a green economy will be incorporated in Kazakhstan’s national development.

Kazakhstan is also working on a new environmental code to develop an environmental legal framework that will meet the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards. The document will encourage natural resource users to incorporate green technologies.

The Central Asian nation, abundant with mineral resources scattered across its territory that is world’s ninth largest by landmass, spent $1.48 billion from the national budget for a five-year preparation to EXPO 2017 that focused on the Future Energy theme.

While some people raised eyebrows at the amount of money spent by Kazakhstan on the much-anticipated event, the effect of the exhibition is far-reaching. Approximately 115 countries and 22 international organisations participated in the exhibition with nearly 6,500 events organised at the site.

Large-scale futuristic buildings were built on the expo site for reuse after the event. A bustling and vibrant part of the city during the exhibition, the district is now surrounded by residential areas and entertainment facilities.

The EXPO business centre now incorporates the 5,000-square-metre Nur Alem sphere, Congress Centre, Astana International Financial Centre, Astana Hub International Technopark of IT start ups and International Centre of Green Technologies and Investments.

“At EXPO 2017, all countries participants showcased their programmes in their pavilions and achievements in green economy and renewable energy. For example, most Arab oil rich countries adopted ambitious programmes to develop solar power not waiting for the end of oil era. The exhibition had a significant political, scientific and technical, informational and educational impact on green reforms in Kazakhstan, pushed the development of international cooperation,” said Kazakh Coalition for Green Economy Chair Saltanat Rakhimbekova in an interview for this story.


International Centre of Green Technologies and Investments

The International Centre of Green Technologies and Investments, launched last year, is among EXPO 2017’s primary legacies. It seeks to help the country transition to a green economy, foster regional and international cooperation in the field and help minimise the carbon footprint of its energy sector on environment.

The idea to set up such a centre using the expo infrastructure was first voiced by Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

“The centre is named the successor for projects and agreements announced during the expo. One of our activities is monitoring the implementation of projects in the regions, nearly 105 projects that are to be implemented in the regions. As a centre, we seek to monitor and assist them. They are all different, mostly in cooperation with the European countries,” Deputy Director Gauhar Beiseeva told EdgeKz.

One of the key projects is promoting Kazakhstan’s accelerated transition to a green economy by fostering technology and best practices, business development and investments.

“This is a very big long-term and strategic project. We learn from the experience of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, European Union and our neighbours. They are steadily switching to this work. For example, Russia and Belarus have been doing that for five years,” she said.

“Best available technologies are those technologies, not only green ones, that eventually contribute to minimizing the negative effect on environment. Europe has been doing this for almost 30 years and it is almost there,” she said.

At their basis are clean water, clean air and clean soil.

“All mechanisms and instruments starting from management, production and pipes, this system needs to transition to best available technologies that will help reduce emissions. Only by doing this, companies can receive comprehensive ecological certificates. Those that receive such certificates will have access to the market, their products will be competitive. If we create such an environment in Kazakhstan, we will prevent waste and not clean technologies from coming to our country,” said Beiseeva.

The commercialisation of eco start-ups and the launch of acceleration and incubation programmes are also among the goals the centre seeks to achieve, said Beiseeva. The projects will be funded by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.

“All our innovations have a chance to reach commercialisation not only in Kazakhstan, but beyond via our centre’s acceleration. I think this is also a big and good project that will push eco-projects and start-ups. There are so many bright minds in Kazakhstan that cannot receive financing and we need to help them,” she said.

The centre is also a national coordinator for the European Union and Central Asia Enhanced Regional Cooperation on Environment, Climate Change and Water. The organisations recently partnered to organise a two-day training on air quality in the Kazakh capital that also explored air quality management principles and standards, industrial and urban air pollution dispersion models.

The centre plans to organise a water quality seminar June 10-12 and a training on soil quality.

Online maps of renewable energy sources in the country, currently in process, will display completed and ongoing projects in wind energy, solar energy, biomass and hydropower.

“We are working on this map, so that at any moment we can see how many renewable energy sources, how many waste processing facilities (are there) with all indicators displayed. We need to collect it. The map will include monitoring and analysis. We will use all sources to build the map, including cosmic sounding. To date, there is no such accurate map for Kazakhstan,” she said.

The centre also runs a single database of regional green projects that includes 131 projects.

“The roadmaps will use projects from EXPO 2017. Along with a portfolio of Kazakh projects, we compile a list of advanced technologies that have a potential of transfer and localisation in Kazakhstan,” she said.


Kazakh Coalition for Green Economy

The Kazakh Coalition for a Green Economy and Development “G-Global” is among the leading organisations in green technology and economy.

“The coalition is one of the leading green organisations in Kazakhstan, a public provider for transitioning to green economy. The coalition has developed many institutional projects, including in green infrastructure, the first green village Arnasai in Kazakhstan, the establishment of regional centres of green technologies, new financial mechanisms of green economy, organised many national contests, virtual and offline exhibitions,” said Rakhimbekova.

The organisation has implemented 25 projects over the last six years across four directions that include creation of demonstrative platforms of technologies and infrastructure of green economy to accumulate and transfer the experience.

“One of the main projects is Arnasai, the first green village in Kazakhstan, that hosts Arnasai education centre of green technologies, a school based on a new model of eco-education, and a G-Global eco park,” she said.

The centre is equipped with 35 green technologies welcoming more than 7,000 people for green business basics training between 2015 and 2018.

“Today, Arnasai is in fact the first public park of green technologies and innovations in Kazakhstan that unites, seeks to popularise and skilfully promotes the results of green projects in the country by companies and individual farmers, innovators and creators. Analysis, selection, checking and incorporation and in some cases completing the development of green technologies, selection of producers, training of experts and exchange of experience represent a huge and important work the coalition is doing,” she said.

Their work goes into regions with their plans to open green technologies centres in six regions adding to the ones in eight regions.

“The second direction is supporting local innovators and creators in green innovations. We have a green technologies commercialisation office to support implementation of green projects, including providing technical expertise, assisting in patent documentation, marketing, search for business partners and investors, media coverage. Currently, 20 developers are getting support at our office,” she said.

“Adopted in 2018, the strategic development plan until 2025 includes many sections on green economy development, green financing and eco-technologies. Currently, we are waiting for the government for their climate plan prepared for the extraordinary UN climate summit in September 2019,” she said.

Challenges and opportunities 

For a country, where almost 75 percent of energy needs are met by fossil fuels, transitioning to a green economy and green projects presents both opportunities and challenges.

Rakhimbekova said the country’s potential is high.

“The potential of Kazakhstan’s natural resources, including renewable ones, according to international experts, is fifth in the world. We are the fifth largest in the world in terms of pasture area, the third in the world in land suitable for agriculture, not spoiled by agrochemicals and GMO crops. We have a huge potential for fisheries and fish farming, for renewable energy sources, unique wind vectors, many sunny days in a year, unique domestic innovations in the field of solar energy,” she said.

Some obstacles, however, remain.

“The government does not still allocate grants and state procurement orders for NGOs in the green economy. The funds meant for eco-payments and fines are almost not used in the country for local and national ecological projects,” said Rakhimbekova.

“Obstacles are old ideas and stereotypes such as ‘nature can endure everything,’ ‘it is necessary to use natural resources as quickly as possible.’ There’s poor level of eco-friendly attitudes in the society. The ‘liberal’ attitude of the legal system to spontaneous dumps and the scattering of domestic garbage create an atmosphere of irresponsibility and permissiveness,” she said.

More green funding mechanisms are needed to boost the field.

“It is necessary to create, following the example of the remarkable experience of Poland and the Czech Republic, revolving investment funds, which at the local level would accumulate a part of environmental payments and fines for excessive pollution in order to launch payback projects of the green economy,” she said.

Renewable energy sources are not the only possible way to reduce carbon emissions, said Beiseeva.

Currently, there are 74 renewable energy facilities with a total capacity of 678.6 MW. Of those, 67 were launched last year, seven were launched since the beginning of 2019 and ten are expected to launch until the end of the year.

The number of renewable energy objects will reach 95 by 2020 and 119 by 2021.

“Europe said it will cut [carbon emissions] by 2030, but they can afford it because they do not have resources. We have resources, but even with these traditional energy sources and because we cannot fully switch to renewable energy sources right now, there are currently so many new technologies that can reduce carbon emissions,” she said.

The hope is there that domestic support and greater international engagement will support Kazakhstan’s efforts towards a greener future.

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