Soviet dominance left the area around Central Asia in ruins. From hundreds of nuclear explosions at the Semey (Semipalatinsk) test site in Kazakhstan to the barbaric destruction of water management in the drying Aral Sea, these environmental disasters have left the five landlocked countries with destroyed human lives, destroyed ecosystems, and pollution.

When Kazakhstan closed Semey before the declaration of independence in 1991, there seems to be hope that at least part of the past destruction can be restored. Together with neighboring Uzbekistan, the country is working to restore the Aral Sea. The then President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated this environmental policy, which began to alleviate the grievances from the Soviet era and is now developing towards a more environmentally friendly region.

Energy plays a key role in this. In the midst of the global transition to renewable energy, the nations of Central Asia are struggling to shake off their over-reliance on the extractive industries and hydrocarbon-dependent growth from the Soviet era. The region has a estimated 5% the world’s natural capacity to harness wind and solar power, but much of that potential remains to be tapped. This is changing, however, with Kazakhstan taking the lead.

July 1st marks the official rollout of Kazakhstan’s new one Environmental law – originally signed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in January of this year. In a tweet, Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, Magzum Mirzagaliyev, said the following about the new code:

The experts of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, the public and the MPs worked on this strategic document. The code meets all modern challenges and, thanks to the well-coordinated work of all those involved, offers standards for improving the ecology of our country. With the adoption of the new environmental code, the provisions of which correspond to OECD standards, Kazakhstan will have a stable and effective system of standards.

The code will promote and establish biodiversity Rates Promote the development of renewable energy sources (RES) and implementation Emission caps for the 50 largest CO2 emitters in Kazakhstan. For the largest economy in Central Asia, the passing of this law is a big step towards fulfilling the climate commitments made by then President Nazarbayev in 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.

In neighboring Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the region, the government has only announced his intention to abandon the pursuit of long-term independence from fossil fuels. According to Deputy Energy Minister Bekhzot Narmatov, the move is a response to investors’ strong interest in solar and wind power versus traditional fossil fuel projects. Tashkent says it will have access to around 3 gigawatts of electricity from wind power in two to three years.

These steps build on the climate reform policy introduced years ago. One of the first actions by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev since taking office in 2016 was the introduction of a comprehensive one Reform agenda this included, among other things, the intention to attract investments in renewable energies.

Neighboring Kazakhstan has launched similar reforms earlier.

In 2013, President Nazarbayev launched his ambitious’Green economy“Agenda under the National Strategy 2050, which set targets for renewable capacities for 2020, 2030 and 2050. The goal of CO2 neutrality by 2060 was later set. Since then, Kazakhstan has raised its renewable energy target from 10% to a more ambitious 15% by 2030. The Kazakh legislature also has one Increase in efficiency of existing energy technologies – especially coal – as one of several immediate changes to energy infrastructure.

Despite the abandonment of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in the 1990s, Kazakhstan is also the largest uranium producer in the world. Ultimately, Kazakhstan’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 will force the country to end its heavy reliance on highly polluting coal. No wonder Nazarbayev also did the 2017. initiated World exhibition, dedicated to Future Energy, carried out in Kazakhstan.

It is a delicate balancing act for President Tokayev to understand his country’s dependence on fossil fuels and at the same time to acknowledge that the Future of the Kazakh economy – and that of the world – depends on renewable energy sources. Kazakhstan routinely ranks among the most energy-intensive economies in the world and leads the region in terms of manufacturing capacities. Kazakhstan ed from 1992 to 2007 grew by 275%and is thus the success story in the post-Soviet economic competition.

The regional economic boom in the late 1990s resulted in Uzbekistan tripling its energy production and Turkmenistan doubling its energy s, but they lag behind Kazakhstan in productivity. And while Uzbekistan pushes for reform, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are dying, while Kyrgyzstan is experiencing chronic political upheavals.

While achieving carbon neutrality in an oil-rich region will be daunting, most major energy projects in the country involve retrofitting aging coal-fired power plants. For transnational projects to harness Central Asia’s 1.3 trillion kWh of potential renewable energy capacity, innovators must overcome obstacles in the fossil fuel industry.

The region’s two mountainous countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – also have large hydropower resources, although Uzbekistan only recently dropped its opposition to hydropower projects in Tajikistan, with the two countries Announcement of two hydropower plants valued at over $ 500 million. A possible electricity to Pakistan via war-torn Afghanistan is on the agenda.

As the region’s renewable capacities increase, it is important to work together on regional cooperation, which President Nazarbayev preached for decades. This includes network compatibility. The outdated Central Asian power grid is still in use today, but it has to be costly modernized in order to integrate renewable energies. Orsted, a major private investor in renewable projects, reports that many Central Asian countries there is a lack of sufficient financial incentives for large projects and that the current grid structure is unable to support large-scale renewable energies.

Efforts to resolve this and attract additional capital have borne fruit. The Central Asian countries have used a nationalized grid authority that controls distribution and generation to create programs of international investment. Kazakhstan’s market-based Energy auctions have enabled competitive prices, better access to renewable energies and greater industry-wide transparency. Similar efforts across the region have led to further investment. Dubai-based Phanes Group gave the first privately financed solar system this year in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has also partnered with the Asian Development Bank to add another 100 MW 100 to its solar capacity.

As the world grapples with climate change and its potentially irreversible consequences, Central Asian business leader Kazakhstan and the most populous country Uzbekistan have demonstrated their commitment to alternative energy sources. To make further progress, Central Asia as a whole must create a compatible legislative infrastructure that enables regulation and intergovernmental technical standards. National governments should support private investors to develop a regional carbon neutral economy.

As investment in the renewable energy sector increases, green policies and market forces will grow, innovate and employment in the wind, solar and water sectors. As Central Asia continues to develop better relationships with international financial institutions, the alternative energy market will benefit from the enormous potential of the region.

With the support of Allie Witt