Central Asia has significant untapped potential to decarbonize its energy systems and accelerate the sustainable energy transition, including through renewable energy development and enhanced resource management. To help the region capitalize on these opportunities, UNECE, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Development Programme in Kazakhstan (UNDP) have reaffirmed commitment to enhancing regional collaboration, bolstering technical capabilities, and assisting Central Asia in innovating and modernizing its infrastructure.
Gathering for the Almaty Energy Forum (6-8 November) at the Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU), discussions explored how to establish sustainable, net-zero energy systems that are safe and affordable, and reflect a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.
Attaining carbon neutral and resilient energy systems by mid-Century is a common goal across the UNECE region. Actions to implement the region-wide decarbonization are underway. However, existing climate models indicate that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) fall short in meeting the collective global target of limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. Dario Liguti, Director of the UNECE Sustainable Energy Division, highlighted UNECE’s Carbon Neutrality Toolkit, which identifies technological and policy options for achieving net neutrality. “This toolkit was developed specifically for policy makers to help them make informed decisions on how to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. Through this platform, we help countries to develop sustainable and carbon-neutral energy systems based on 3 pillars: energy security, affordability and environmental sustainability.”
He also expressed his condolences following the tragedy that occurred at the Kostenko mine on 28 October, noting that to help prevent future accidents, UNECE has a dedicated Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane and Just transition and has developed Best Practice Guidance for Effective Methane Drainage and Use in Coal Mines.
“Delivering a resilient energy system is complex and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each country will need to consider their own natural resources endowment and regulatory structure. All low- and zero-carbon technologies will need to play a role and each country is free to choose its own technology pathway to design and deploy a resilient energy system and to deliver on the climate targets”, said Laura Altinger, Head, Regional Nature, Climate and Energy Team, UNDP Bureau for Europe and Central Asia.
The Rector of KBTU, Maratbek Gabdullin, emphasized the importance of the Forum for the university and ongoing scientific research. He highlighted the university’s production of solar panels for academic and practical research, and further work on new superconducting materials with the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, in addition to collaboration with UNDP to develop and promote renewable energy issues. "The results of the Forum will allow to develop a set of recommendations and formulate a further action plan aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and collaboration to create sustainable energy systems in the Central Asian region”, he said.
The Forum also shared practical experiences in reducing investment risks for investors in the field of renewable energy sources (RES) and energy efficiency and introducing “green” financial instruments within and outside the region.
UNECE also presented a case study of 100 renewable energy initiatives, choosing 20 from each region for analysis. As part of the project, UNECE equipped investors with training and supported the project leaders in implementation. Within a year, 20 percent of the projects involved had already shown progress. To build on this, a strategy was adopted and recommended to provide ongoing training for both stakeholders and to facilitate a consistent exchange of insights.
Oleg Khmelev, the International Chief Technical Advisor of the UNDP, the Global Environment Facility, and the Republic of Kazakhstan's government collaborative projects, outlined key factors for addressing challenges in securing financing for renewable energy projects. These include providing guarantees, financial support for investors, reducing risks through legislative enhancement, maintaining continuous experience sharing, and organizing auctions. Khmelev underlined that the auction approach was launched in Kazakhstan since November 2022, under the aegis of the Ministry of Energy . This strategy has facilitated the realization of numerous projects, with the Turkestan and Akmola regions notably benefitting and showing significant growth.
Discussions also explored how to unlock the raw material potential of Central Asia. Yerlan Galiyev, Chairman of the National Geological Service JSC, said that “The mineral resource base of Kazakhstan is formed by deposits of the fuel and energy complex (hydrocarbons, coal, uranium), ferrous, non-ferrous, precious, rare metals, non-metallic minerals, groundwater and other minerals. In total, state accounting is conducted for 103 types of minerals. The state balance sheet takes into account more than 8 thousand deposits, of which 326 are hydrocarbons, 920 are solid minerals, more than 3 thousand are common minerals and about 4 thousand are groundwater deposits."
Forum participants also raised the issue of developing SDG-7 roadmaps taking into account crises such as COVID-19, slowing global growth, inflated commodity prices and shocks in the financial sector.
This year's event brought together representatives of the ministries of the energy industry of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, international organizations, the financial sector, of science and academia and more than 200 participants from different countries.