Bold strategies for Central Asia’s climate goals

An opinion piece by Rahat Sabyrbekov, a visiting scholar at Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harward University sheds light on climate change challenges and decarbonization efforts in Central Asia.

The region’s temperature has risen more than other parts of the world, necessitating comprehensive initiatives to deal with the consequences of climate change. Central Asian nations set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve other climate objectives. For example, five countries of Central Asia had a shared pavilion at a COP28 climate conference in Dubai in December, 2023, where Turkmenistan pledged to cut its massive methane emissions.

Destructive fossil fuel subsidies

Despite these developments, however, the region is facing challenges, as discussed in a summary of a recent book by the same author. Among these are limited state capacity to take action against climate change, corruption, old and inefficient infrastructure, lack of regional collaboration, and others. The main challenge, however, is that Central Asia is both a producer and a heavy consumer of fossil fuels, and the region’s economy is heavily dependent on these resources. This is especially evident in the rate at which governments subsidize the fossil fuel industry, as all five Central Asian nations are in the top 30 countries with the highest fossil fuel subsidies as a percentage of GDP, as shown in the graph from the article.

Kazakhstan’s subsidies are equal to almost 30% of their GDP, the highest in the region, whereas Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan’s subsidies are all at around 22%. Tajikistan subsidizes fossil fuels the least, but still at a high rate of around 16% of their GDP.

Source: Rahat Sabyrbekov, prepared using IMF data.

According to the author, reducing these subsidies will help promote expansion of renewable energy in the region with rich solar, wind, and hydropower potential. However, as the previous years have shown, the governments may struggle to impose taxes and reduce subsidies due to huge public discontent. Nevertheless, it is imperative for leaders to take decisive actions to adapt to climate change and its severe impacts, and to set their nations on a path to a sustainable and green future, as do many other nations in their efforts to combat climate change.

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