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The risks of global warming are real. Countries such as US, China, and other governments must implement measures to restrict the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Coal has been running the wheels and warming the homes for centuries; however, it has had devastating effects on warming the globe and changing its climate. When mitigating climate change, coal stands out as a major target due to its high emissions of CO2 per unit of thermal energy.
The End of Coal which is necessary to keep global warming below 2 degrees is on the agenda of world leaders. Kazakhstan as many other developed and developing nations has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement. However, Kazakhstan signs protocols and agreements mostly for State’s international reputation rather than to seriously implement those obligations. This essay will argue that Kazakhstan’s intent and actions will be determined by domestic politics rather than solidarity with international community or any desire to address Climate Change concerns.
Coal phase-out implies several policies: the shut-down of coal mines, an exit from coal-fired electricity generation, government-driven divestment from coal, and removal of government subsidies to the industry as well as public finance to coal both domestically and abroad. These policies can be rapid or gradual, and sometimes they are part of much broader energy sector developments, including, for instance, transition from a planned to a market-based economy. For the Paris Agreement compatible pathway, global emissions from coal need to fall by around three quarters from close to 10 GtCO2 per year in 2020 to around 2.5 GtCO2 per year in 2030. This can only be achieved with early retirement of operating power plants, so there is no rationale for supporting the construction new coal power plants. Building new coal power plants would be completely inconsistent with any development in line with meeting the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal. To succeed the Paris Agreement goals, the OECD and EU countries need to phase out coal by 2030.
China would need to phase out coal around 2040, and the rest of the world by 2050. Despite legitimate concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, coal use continues to be significant. By 2017, for instance, coal supplies a third of all energy used worldwide and makes up 40% of electricity generation, as well as playing a crucial role in industries such as iron and steel. Many countries are not willing to commit to a total phase-out yet. A number of developing countries in Asia are still looking to build new coal plants to bring electricity to those who do not have it. According to Paris agreement, each country has its own set of goals to gradual reduction of CO2 emissions. This essay highlights the pathway of the country that signs international agreements with no intent to succeed its preliminary goals. Kazakhstan is a signatory to Paris agreement for purely diplomatic positioning. This means the country’s climate commitment is at the least stringent end of what would be a fair share of global effort and is not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C limit unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort. I argue that a major energy policy change like coal phase-out requires, at the minimum, the following conditions:
This paper demonstrates that these conditions do not exist in Kazakhstan. I will contrast Kazakhstani approach with Ontario, Canada to substantiate the main thesis of the essay. Ontario’s coal phase out reform was reviewed from the IISD’s report. The Kazakhstan’s case mainly studied because the country has similar domestic and foreign policy framework as any other Central Asian countries. Thus, Kazakhstan’s political approach is representative of the regional geo-politics. Ontario’s successful energy reform. The coal phase-out in Ontario became the largest GHG reduction measure in North America. Ontario was able to surpass its 2014 target to reduce GHGs by 6 per cent below the 1990 level. It is critical to go through Ontario’s background and conditions that resulted in successful implementation the coal phase out reform. I find useful to study Ontario’s experience using the concepts of the “windows of opportunity” which was offered by ICCD’s report. A sustainable energy transition can be clustered within the three “panes” of this “window”: context, champions, and concerns. Context Each Canada’s province has autonomy to legislate laws which made it easier for Ontario to pass and implement coal phase-out reform without the federal government’s decision.
Coal-fired plants were relatively old, and it was a good start towards their shutdown. The next crucial factor is the supply side: Ontario imported most of the coal used in power generation, rather than producing it locally, also played a major role. On the other hand, the province had high potential for hydro power generation. Champions The Ontario’s coal phase-out campaign had active stakeholders. Environmentalists, doctors and civil society joined efforts toward the common goal of phasing out coal. By 2003, the health issues related to CO2 emissions was in public agenda which created a policy window for three main parties – Progressive Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic. The issue with health concerns related to coal pollution was one of the main topics in 2003 election campaigns. Political buy-in from all parties was crucial to take the reform forward because it meant consistent, long-term support. It signaled to industry, the public, the bureaucracy and any opposition that, regardless of which party formed the government, this agenda would be steadily advanced. Concerns In Ontario values such as human health and lifestyle are generally high on the political agenda. Public health was an obvious argument that supported the coal phase-out. Furthermore, issues that drove the phase-out initiative included concerns about the environment, global warming and green energy expectations. We can see that there were concerns and arguments for reform with respect to health and environment. These concerns found stakeholders and decision makers who championed and promoted the reform processes. Substantial role in supporting the energy reform was played by strong grassroot movement. All these processes led to successful implementation of energy reform in Ontario.
Even though Canada (and thus Ontario) is a major country with wealthy corporations wielding enormous lobbying power, the nature of governance, and strength of democratic institutions ensured that elected leaders and could effectively deal with corporate lobbying and also could not ignore public pressure due to strong grassroot awareness. “End of coal” in Kazakhstan By 2017, Kazakhstan has 63 power plants: 72% of electricity comes from coal-fired plants, 12,3% comes from hydroelectric source, 15% – from gas and oil, and less than 0,2% – from solar and wind.4 This clearly demonstrates that Kazakhstan heavily relies on coal-based energy. Despite signing Paris accord, the State continues to increase its CO2 emissions by expanding coal-based production. That clearly demonstrates that Kazakhstan signed agreements for mitigating global warming mostly for international diplomacy purpose. There was no intention to succeed the reduction of CO2 emissions. Kazakhstan’s National Determined Contribution contains an unconditional target aims to reduce GHG emissions by 13% below 1990 levels by 2030.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organizations tracking climate action, Kazakhstan’s target of reducing emissions has been rated “Insufficient”. The rating indicates that the State’s climate commitment is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement. If other countries were to follow Kazakhstani approach, warming would reach up to 3°C. Why is Kazakhstan violating its own international commitment? Let us examine conditions required for a major policy change.
Kazakhstan has legacy of Soviet style governance. Political decisions such as energy reform must go through long bureaucratic processes. The next limitation would be top down policy approach. All ideas and decisions are controlled or directed from the highest levels. It starts with general idea and having details gradually added as it goes down the hierarchy. For instance, the implementation part of the presidential policy passed down to the Ministerial office. Top-down authoritarian model tends to neglect other actors such as environmentalist, doctors, and civil society.
The State has inadequate Green energy sources. Kazakhstan does not rely on alternative source of energy because it is not able to compensate the energy shortage. Southern and Western part of Kazakhstan suffers from deficit of electric power.
Kazakhstan is small player in the global context. In 2016, Kazakhstan roughly emitted 250 MtCO2. It is a drop in the ocean. China, for instance, emitted 10,151 MtCO2. The US, in the same period, emitted around 5,500 MtCO2. Kazakhstan has low CO2 emission impact which is leading to low international scrutiny. Thus, there is low incentives to comply.
Weak civil society actors are big source of concern. Top-down authoritarian model tends to neglect other actors such as environmentalist.
Entrenched vested interest of the President’s family is in the coal-based industry. “Samruk-Kazyna”, a huge strategic holding and active investor in Kazakhstan, has shares in oil and gas, transport and logistic sectors, chemical, mining, and metallurgy, energy, machinery building industries. The family members of the President and close to the family are running the Samruk-Kazyna. Their ownership of energy industry leads to strong lobbying of coal.
There is low awareness among citizen due to non-transparent information system. The government authorities censor social media and communication apps. Furthermore, the government of Kazakhstan possesses legal powers to block online content. The government censors information that might lead to protests and challenges against the dictator.
The Republic of Kazakhstan is a unitary state with authoritarian presidential form of governance, with little power outside the executive branch. The country’s priority is to sustain economic growth rather than to tackle environmental issues.
In Kazakhstan, economic prosperity is tied to political stability. Thus, short term gain wins, long term harm reduction loses. Kazakhstan has conditions to starts the coal phase out reform. As Ontario, we could use the health concern as the determinate factor. The recent study by OECD finds that air pollution causes 2,800 premature deaths and over 1,3 USD billion of health costs in Kazakhstan annually. This terrible statistic could raise the level of public awareness on and political sensitivity to the link between environment and health, which could attract the high priority and the sense of urgency on health risks caused by coal-fired power generation in Kazakhstan. Conclusion The end of coal is a globally popular agenda for contributing towards climate change. Paris agreement depends on reduction of use of coal as well. However, countries like Kazakhstan might not make any effort to coal phase out in closer future. As argued in the essay, Kazakhstan does not have domestic and international pressure to start a gradual move towards green energy. Synthesis of the Ontario’s case and Kazakhstan’s “end of coal” policy clearly demonstrates that political structure plays a tremendous role. If there is an opportunity for decision makers to raise the health and environment issues, there is always a policy window for politicians to support the idea of coal phase out, for example. Even under the top down policy approach, there is a chance for those who might champion the critical issue.
Consider the shocking fact that OECD Development Pathways dimensional Review of Kazakhstan is only in English! People do not have access to the statistical data. It is unlikely that a simple civilian can find information about “air pollution causes 2,800 premature deaths and over 1,3 USD billion of health costs in Kazakhstan annually”. Lack of public awareness result in lack of grassroot movement. Facts about Kazakhstani approach that is presented in the essay make me believe that Kazakhstan might not go green and change its policy towards Paris agreement’s goals. Unless, there is a political transition from an authoritarian rule (or at best a dysfunctional democracy) to a more vibrant democracy where citizen participation and representation is strong in the policy making process.
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