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Opinion: Kyrgyz Republic’s climate plan invites international cooperation

Kyrgyzstan’s updated NDC pledges to aim for greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if it receives international support
A research station at the Adygine glacier complex in the Tien-Shan mountain range, Kyrgyzstan (Image: Michal Cerny / Alamy)
A research station at the Adygine glacier complex in the Tien-Shan mountain range, Kyrgyzstan (Image: Michal Cerny / Alamy)

As we approach the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), taking place in Glasgow from 31 October, we are witnessing a key test of global commitment to bold climate action. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, but current predictions suggest this level of warming could be just a few years away.

For climate action to be successful, all countries and especially the largest emitters must realign their production and consumption systems with a low-carbon profile. Smaller countries, like Kyrgyzstan, can benefit from this process as the low-emission pathway is a sustainable way to develop. It also enables the country, as one of the most affected by and vulnerable to climate change, to seek financial support for the costs it faces in undertaking adaption.

Kyrgyzstan’s NDC: ambition contingent on support from developed nations

On 24 September 2021, Kyrgyzstan approved its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and submitted it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the key global mechanism for tackling climate change. The NDC document lays out a vision for the sustainable and balanced development of the country, taking into account both the impacts of the climate crisis and the environmental and socio-economic problems that the country is facing. It also sets out a climate change strategy for 2030, with concrete, fully funded and achievable actions; and recognises the importance of adopting a Low-Carbon Development Strategy and a National Adaptation Plan.

The overall mitigation goal in Kyrgyzstan’s NDC is to reduce unconditionally greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.63% by 2025 and by 15.97% by 2030 from “business as usual” levels. However, should international support be provided, these goals would be increased to a reduction of 36.61% by 2025 and 43.62% by 2030. Even though the country is a relatively low emitter of greenhouse gases, these new targets are more ambitious than before.

Around 60% of all GHG emissions in Kyrgyzstan are created by the energy sector. A decrease in the consumption of fossil fuels and increase in renewable energy is planned, as well as the modernisation of energy supply systems. The promotion of activities to increase energy efficiency will also contribute to GHG emission reduction.

There is high-level support in the country for action on climate change. Sadyr Japarov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, stated at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly last month that Kyrgyzstan will try to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

We can already see progress being made in this direction, with renewable energy sources starting to be developed. So far, plans focus mostly on the hydroelectric sector – which warrants caution given the environmental impact of large dams. Moreover, water is a particularly scarce resource in Central Asia and cannot be treated like wind or solar, as excessive exploitation would come at a huge cost. As part of strategies to ensure energy security, Kyrgyzstan will progressively increase the number of ‘real’ renewable energy projects. The NDC identifies the promotion of green energy technologies as one of the main priorities and recognises that this sector will require significant subsidies to increase its financial attractiveness.

In fact, Central Asia as a whole is a low-emission region. The combined percentage of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan’s emissions accounts for only 0.55% of the total global level. The main direction of government policies is to remain as such, and protect countries’ new energy investment space from soon-to-be-obsolete fossil fuel technologies. Uzbekistan has a target to reach 25% renewable energy by 2030, enshrined in national law, though has not yet submitted its revised NDC. Tajikistan will cap its GHG emissions to 60-70% of 1990 levels by 2030. Kazakhstan, the largest emitter of CO2 in Central Asia, has set an unconditional target to reduce GHGs by 15% by 2030 compared with 1990. It has also made a bold claim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Agriculture and other key sectors in Kyrgyzstan need investment to adapt

A landlocked mountainous country, Kyrgyzstan is strongly affected by the impacts of the climate crisis. As glaciers retreat and snow cover changes the reliable availability of water for irrigation decreases. While glacial melting masks some of the reduction in water levels, the snowmelt starting earlier in the season means that the peak of the water run-off shifts away from the main growing season. This jeopardises stability in agricultural production and therefore threatens food security, particularly in rural areas where many people are affected by poverty.

With the impacts of the climate crisis making Kyrgyzstan increasingly vulnerable, climate change adaptation is a vital and urgent matter. The country’s NDC identifies adaptation measures in the agriculture and water sectors as one of the highest priorities for the country. Efficient water management  underpins enhanced water governance, which is essential for the country’s energy and agricultural productivity. In agriculture, introducing water-saving smart technologies would reduce stress on diminishing water resources. Strengthening climate-resilient practices in crop production and livestock breeding would reduce losses in agriculture from the impact of climate change.

Families and shepherds working in remote pastureland in Kyrgyzstan access new solar panels, Image UNDP
Families and shepherds working in remote pastureland in Kyrgyzstan access new solar panels (Image: UNDP)

But the climate crisis will not only impact agriculture; it can have destabilising consequences for health and social care, energy, transport, infrastructure, tourism, biodiversity and protected areas. Tackling the climate crisis and advancing the sustainable development of the country are closely interrelated, and achieving one without the other is probably impossible. Therefore, it will be essential to reduce the risks of climate change-related disasters and take other adaptative actions in the coming years.

Turning challenges into opportunities

Climate action can create new jobs and drive sustainable economic growth. According to a 2018 report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, we are vastly underestimating the economic benefits of climate action. Transitioning to a low-carbon economy could generate USD 26 trillion globally in economic benefits by 2030.

In Kyrgyzstan, this transition could mean creating new green jobs through the expansion of the domestic renewable energy sector; increased food security and less vulnerability to extreme weather events through better adaptation measures; better air quality and public health from reducing pollution from dirty energy sources; and lower costs in recovering from climate-related disasters due to effective preventative and management measures.

Climate action is also an opportunity to promote inclusion in decision-making processes, creating a voice and opportunity for women’s active engagement and equal inclusion of marginalised groups. This can be accomplished through wide discussion and development of gender-sensitive strategies on climate adaption following the main principle “leave no one behind”.

Success on the global climate agenda requires governments to lead and provide strong incentives; businesses to invest and innovate; and societies to come together for a common cause: solving the climate crisis.

COP26 could be our biggest opportunity to create a more sustainable world for all. As development partners in the country, UNDP will continue to support the efforts of all stakeholders in Kyrgyzstan, and indeed across Central Asia and many other countries, to transition successfully to sustainable, low-carbon, inclusive and climate-resilient development.

Note: UNDP has supported 76 countries to upgrade their NDC ambitions ahead of COP26, and will continue working with many countries in developing their low-carbon strategies and to implement them, by leveraging financing and technical expertise.

The NDC development process in Kyrgyzstan was undertaken by government agencies under the leadership and coordination of the State Committee on Ecology and Climate of the Kyrgyz Republic with the support of the UNDP ‘Climate Promise’ initiative and NDC Partnership. Other UN agencies and international development partners also contributed. Find more more information about the Climate Promise here.