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UNECE names top 10 environmental achievements of Kazakhstan and the country’s top 10 environmental priorities for the future

Published: 05 June 2019

The Third Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Kazakhstan, launched in Nur-Sultan on World Environment Day (5 June 2019), highlights the successes of Kazakhstan in improving its environmental policy over the past decade and provides recommendations to the country for future action. The Review is a collaborative effort by a team of experts sent by Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, OECD, UNEP and WHO and led by UNECE.

The EPR names top 10 environmental achievements of Kazakhstan during the period 2008–2018. These are:

Stabilization of the populations of many globally threatened animal species

Populations of Saiga antelope, European mink, Bukhara deer, goitered gazelle, Siberian musk deer and snow leopard are either stable or increasing at a steady rate in Kazakhstan. This success is due, in part, to the fact that protected rare and endangered animal species are not hunted in Kazakhstan and anti-poaching measures are quite effective; although poaching remains a threat to several wild ungulate and bird species.

Intensive afforestation work

Kazakhstan is carrying out intensive afforestation work aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of the shrinking of the Aral Sea and increasing forest cover by 8,175 km2 by 2030. The Government is also encouraging private land users to undertake afforestation initiatives.

Implementation of river basin management

Within the post-Soviet geopolitical area, Kazakhstan is one of the pioneers in implementing the basin management approach. Basin councils have been established to involve water users and basin agreements have been concluded. Eight basin inspectorates cover hydrographic basins, extending over the territories of several oblasts.

Conclusion of new transboundary water agreements

Kazakhstan has been active in the field of international cooperation on water. Landmark achievements include the conclusion of two new agreements with the Russian Federation (2010 and 2016) and a new agreement on water quality with China (2011).

Particular focus on radioactive waste

The decommissioning of a sodium-cooled fast reactor (BN-350) located at Aktau nuclear power plant was completed in 2010. About 3,000 spent fuel assemblies were transported to a temporary storage site developed near Baykal-1 – the country’s main radioactive waste storage facility, located in Semey (formerly Semipalatinsk). The spent fuel will be stored for 50 years under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Start of the shift to gas and development of the country’s gas infrastructure

Kazakhstan has been developing its gas transmission system in order to strengthen energy security and reduce environmental impacts. Currently, around 87 per cent of the country’s installed power capacity comes from thermal power plants that mainly use coal. However, the sector is gradually switching to gas. During the period 2008–2017, gas turbine capacity increased by more than 700 MW, to 1,675 MW.

Near-universal access to energy services

Kazakhstan has achieved 100 per cent electrification. However, the electricity supply is unreliable in some rural areas. More than 1,400,000 people in Kazakhstan still use polluting fuels for cooking.

Decrease in infant and maternal mortality

During the period 2008–2016, infant mortality rate declined from 20.8 per 1,000 live births to 8.6 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality rate fell from 31.2 per 100,000 live births to 12.7 per 100,000 live births over the same period. The maternal mortality rate in Kazakhstan is less than half the average for the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Green economy made a policy priority

In 2013, Kazakhstan made a green economy a clear policy objective by adopting its aspirational Concept on Transition to Green Economy. The Concept outlined the path to long-term growth based on climate-friendly technologies and has since inspired numerous environmental actions in various economic sectors and on the ground.

Institutional framework set up for implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2018, Kazakhstan established the Coordination Council on Sustainable Development Goals, headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by five intergovernmental working groups and a secretariat. The Council coordinates the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The EPR also highlights the top 10 environmental priorities for the country for the coming 5–10 years. These are:

Ensuring the independence of and strengthening inspections in the environmental area

The fact that the key regulatory and enforcement authority in the environmental area (the Committee of Environmental Regulation and Control) reports to the ministry responsible for one of the major polluting sectors (energy) limits its independence regarding environmental regulation and enforcement. The overall trend of reducing the pressure on business has resulted in a reduction in the number of environmental violations identified.

Reforming the environmental payments system to stimulate behavioural changes

Incentives for companies to invest in pollution reduction and technology modernization to reverse the current paradigm – pollute as long as you pay – are largely absent.

Tightening emission limit standards for large combustion plants and ensuring their modernization

Emission limit standards for large thermal power plants in Kazakhstan are far less stringent than in the European Union. Furthermore, these standards are different for existing and new plants. They are more relaxed for existing plants not undergoing modernization, more stringent for existing plants that undergo modernization and most stringent for new plants. This approach discourages modernization.

Supporting the growth of renewable energy and implementing energy efficiency measures

The country is one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, with the energy sector being the major carbon dioxide emitter. Energy efficiency has become a policy priority but concrete measures need to be taken to introduce energy efficiency technologies. In 2017, wind and solar sources provided 0.43 per cent of generated electricity. A clear road map for achieving the country’s renewable energy targets (3 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2050) is required.

Significantly extending the protected area network

Kazakhstan has established an extensive network of protected areas, encompassing 243,750 km2 (an area comparable to the size of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). However, the share of protected areas in the country’s overall territory (8.94 per cent) is well below the globally recommended level. The existing network does not adequately cover the habitats of all threatened wildlife species.

Improving water use efficiency in agriculture

Two thirds of all abstracted water in Kazakhstan is used by the agriculture sector, mostly for irrigation. About 11–15 per cent of abstracted water is lost during transmission, mostly due to obsolete irrigation infrastructure and methods. The low cost of water supply and uniform tariff rates, which do not depend on consumption amount, provide no incentive to save water.

Expanding water supply and sanitation, with greater efforts in rural areas

About 70 per cent of the country’s population have access to the centralized water supply, while 58 per cent are connected to sanitation networks. The water supply situation in rural areas is worse than in cities.

Developing modern waste disposal sites and introducing sound chemicals management

Typically, waste disposal sites in the country are not equipped with impermeable layers for the protection of groundwater or systems for the control of leachate. Several studies have highlighted the negative health impact of unsound chemicals management. The mandates of different agencies in the context of sound chemicals management are not clearly defined.

Addressing the growing burden of non-communicable diseases

Morbidity from non-communicable diseases, which might be linked to environmental quality, has been increasing in children, who are generally more sensitive to environmental hazards than adults. About 2.6 times more children were diagnosed with asthma in 2016 compared to 2009. Total morbidity from cancer in children increased by 60 per cent during the period 2009–2016. The rate of congenital disorders is increasing.

Ensuring effective public participation in decision-making on the environment

The country has progressed with setting up the legal frameworks for public participation in environmental matters. However, challenges remain in enabling effective public participation in decision-making on planned projects and in increasing the effectiveness of public advisory councils.

The Third EPR was prepared by UNECE in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy and other governmental and non-governmental stakeholders of Kazakhstan, with funding from Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union and overall support from UNDP-Kazakhstan.

The Third EPR is available in English and Russian at:

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05