This article is based on the discussions of the 2020 Central Asia Climate Change Conference. Listen back here.
The Central Asian countries of the Ancient Silk Road, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, are today characterized by low levels of land productivity and acute land degradation with significant economic costs.
Assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that climate change poses serious risks to Central Asia, furthered by the expansion of commercial agriculture, logging and pasturing activities that have intensified land degradation, erosion and vegetation cover loss.
From floods and mudslides to avalanches and droughts, extreme weather causes significant declines in the gross domestic products of Central Asian countries. In Tajikistan in 2019, the World Bank estimates that the total costs resulting from land degradation were between 8 and 13.5 percent of the country’s GDP. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan evacuated tens of thousands of people from the Syr Darya river basin after the Sardoba dam burst in May 2020. The disaster, attributed to “abnormally strong winds and heavy rains” by the Ministry of Water Resources of Uzbekistan, cost an estimated USD 400,000 in crop damage, killing four and injuring dozens.
“Farmers in Central Asia are already experiencing these changes today,” says Lilia Burunciuc, regional director of the World Bank in Central Asia. “Their crop yield suffers from droughts and floods. Floods pose a direct and real threat to their lives.”
Regional collaboration initiatives for cross-border environmental restoration have been historically meager. However, nowadays the Central Asian republics are advancing cooperation to address the pressing issues of landscape restoration, and the World Bank is assisting the countries with a new regional program for Resilient Landscapes (RESILAND). The Central Asia Climate Change Conference has emerged as one of the foremost platforms for doing so, which this year held its third annual edition, CACCC 2020, online from 19 to 23 October.
The conference was organized by the World Bank under the framework of the “Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program for the Aral Sea Basin” (CAMP4ASB). Alongside the conference was a high-level meeting of the representatives of Ministries of Foreign Affairs and parliamentarians of Central Asian countries to discuss climate change. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Asia’s climate change policies were a major discussion topic at the conference, as were the specific ways Central Asian governments are working to achieve their commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the negative consequences of climate change on regional water resources and energy management, agriculture, health and other sectors. The positive health externalities that come from climate change mitigation are approximately double the size of mitigation costs, according to Massimo Cozzone and Vladimir Kendrovski from the World Health Organization (WHO).
In this vein, despite the effects of the pandemic, Central Asian countries are demonstrating progress in the areas of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Research and training in climate-vulnerable sectors and the development of innovative modeling methodologies and equipment have improved the quality of climate monitoring services.
All Central Asian countries are in the process of upgrading their weather and climate monitoring networks, aided by the CAMP4ASB project’s development of the Central Asian Climate Information Platform (CACIP), which includes upgrading weather and climate observation systems and designing new assessment mechanisms for climate investment in the region.
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have gained access to Green Climate Fund (GCF) financing to support their respective adaptation strategies, and the GCF has allocated USD 19 million of grant-based financing to national- and regional-level projects as part of the CAMP4ASB project.
“Governments of our region are paying special attention to [climate change] and taking appropriate measures, including the development of national communications, state programs and strategies as well as the implementation of various projects,” said Sulton Rakhimzoda, chairman of the executive committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS).
The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest lake centered across the Uzbek-Kazakh border, has desertified over the course of the last 60 years in what is widely regarded as one of the most devastating environmental disasters of the last century. The regional parties to the IFAS have already undertaken hundreds of projects to restore the area. Over the past few years, Kazakhstan allocated USD 85 million to construct the Dike Kokaral dam, which is helping bring water back into the northern part of the Aral Sea, helping restore wetland ecosystems, support agriculture and provide a fishing economy. Uzbekistan has meanwhile planted 350,000 hectares of Haloxylon (saxaul) and other salt-tolerant plants in the Aral seabed, bringing fertility back to the dried landscape and helping reduce dust that has been linked to adult and child respiratory diseases.
Moreover, Central Asian countries are working on the organizational aspects of regular climate change reporting through national communications, biennial reports and outputs of their climate finance activities.
For example, Tajikistan’s State Agency for Hydrometeorology is undergoing GCF-supported modernization of its climate measurements and predictions services to bolster the nation’s disaster and climate resilience. Millions of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people of the mountainous country are projected to benefit from the project with increased resilience to landslides and floods.
The World Bank’s Central Asia Resilient Landscapes Restoration Program (RESILAND CA+) is likewise supporting regional initiatives by improving the connectivity of natural resources across borders along infrastructure and transport corridors and boosting the resilience of communities put at risk by the continued degradation of landscapes.
This year, 2020, is a critical year as the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of the Paris Agreement on climate change are entering into force, and all the Central Asian republics are parties to the agreement. Representatives of the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan discussed the NDCs at the event.
Zulfiya Suleimenova from the Ministry of Ecology, Geology, and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan discussed how her country is advancing a low-carbon development strategy, strengthening the national greenhouse gas emission trading scheme and producing new legislation on the integration of climate adaptation into the governance of agriculture, water, forestry and civil defense.
“Kazakhstan has already established the necessary legal and institutional frameworks to foster a green transition and adopted a series of target legal instruments, including the Environmental Code,” said Serik Seydumanov, a member of the Committee on Ecology and Environmental Management of Kazakhstan. The Environmental Code refers to Kazakhstan’s official environmental protection policy.
“Tajikistan is among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world,” warned Abdukodir Isuf Valizoda, a member of the country’s Committee on Agriculture, Employment, and Environment. In 2019, Tajikistan adopted a National Strategy for Climate Adaptation that runs until 2030. Tajikistan’s National Strategy highlights the country’s climate-vulnerable sectors and provides a strategy for project financing and priorities. President Emomali Rahmon noted that 99 percent of his country’s electricity is hydro-based and endorsed the widespread use of renewable energy at the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly.
Turkmenistan has likewise ratified global climate agreements and taken substantial measures to plant trees under its National Forestry Program since 2013. For example, it is expected that up to 10 million trees will be planted in Turkmenistan in 2020, according to Berdi Berdiev of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection.
And in Uzbekistan, more than 250 climate change adaptation projects and initiatives to mitigate the effects of the Aral Sea crisis have been implemented as of this year, according to Boriy Alikhanov, who chairs a parliamentary committee for the development of the Aral Sea region, including a state program and a trust fund under the auspices of the UN. Uzbekistan’s upcoming national forest strategy that runs through 2030 includes targets to conserve 14 million hectares of forested lands through legally protected forest estates.