Central Asian Pavilion at COP27. Credit: Julia Pashkovska.

In December 2020, our team released the Review regarding Climate Policy in the EECCA region. In that document, we pieced together the most up-to-date information on the countries’ plans on reducing  emissions in different sectors, on adaptation and updating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and their positions for UN Climate negotiations.

In April 2021, the CAN EECCA team sent official letters to ten Governments of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia region, with detailed recommendations on improving their climate policies, and asked those Governments for information on measures they had already implemented. Only four countries replied, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine.

In November 2021, delegates of every EECCA country took part in COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, where they made many statements and submitted their updated NDCs. So what changes in climate policies of EECCA countries can be considered as the most important?

Azerbaijan

In their NDC, Azerbaijan has set a goal of reducing their emissions by 35% by 2030 of the 1990 level, which is from 75 to 48 million tons of CO2 equivalent. This commitment was also listed by the Head of Department for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan in their response to our letter. Considering that in 1990-2018 emissions have already dropped 37 million tons, this wording is chosen to disguise plans to increase emissions.

Revenues from selling oil make almost 53% of Azerbaijan’s budget. While the letter refers to successful environmental policies, it unfortunately fails to mention any specific examples.

The country submitted their NDC in 2017 (the document contains 3 pages of text), and never updated it. Azerbaijan’s NDC barely mentions any adaptation measures.  At the same time, the country’s agricultural sector, which employs over 36% of population, suffers from droughts and flooding. In his official letter, the Ministry representative confirmed that Azerbaijan is a country highly vulnerable to climate change, especially when it comes to water resources.

During COP26, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources Rauf Hajiyev said: “While the ocean is rising, the Caspian Sea level is decreasing, which negatively affects biodiversity and makes the country more vulnerable to climate change.” Azerbaijan’s current climate policy, however, is by no means ambitious. Despite the country’s vulnerability to climate crisis, its Government is yet to demonstrate clear signals that Azerbaijan is ready to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels.

Armenia

In early May, Armenia submitted their updated NDC to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), of which we were informed by  an official letter from the Ministry of Environment. The new plan suggests that by 2030, Armenia will reduce their emissions by 40% of the 1990 level. Translated into figures, that means that Armenia plans to be emitting 15.5 Mt of CO2 equivalent in 2030. According to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report of Armenia 1990-2017, that target has already been exceeded as early as in 2017, when their emissions amounted to 10.6 Mt of CO2 equivalent.

According to the new Republic of Armenia Energy Sector Development Strategic Program till 2040, the country plans more ambitious development of renewable energy and further lifetime extension of the Armenian NPP. The lack of plans on phasing out the use of nuclear energy is alarming. Nuclear power plants are very expensive, long to construct and dangerous sources of energy, while the problem of waste disposal has not yet been solved.

At the same time, Armenia plans to double the share of renewable energy sources by 2030, in order to achieve maximum climate neutrality in the second half of the century. While the “second half of the century” is a loose concept, we welcome the fact that the country began mentioning climate neutrality in their official communication, particularly during COP26.

The CAN EECCA network members believe that a huge potential for combatting climate change in Armenia is concentrated at the local level. When the communities start caring about their own energy consumption and invest in energy efficiency and small solar power plants, it might alleviate the lack of ambition in national policy.

Belarus

In October 2021 Belarus managed to catch the last ride and submit their updated first NDC to UNFCCC. Their new goal is to reduce their emissions no less than by 35% of the 1990 level. Since Belarus already decreased their emissions by 35%, and there wasn’t much change over the past 15 years, the ultimate goal of the NDC is simply to not increase emissions in the course of the following 10 years.

Given that the country uses international finance facilities, they can set a more ambitious goal, proceeding to reduce their emissions by actual 5% compared to 2018 level.

Belarus is heavily dependent on fossil energy sources in generating electricity. 97.1% of electricity in 2020 was generated by thermal power plants. An 8% reduction in emissions is planned for 2022 through phasing in an expensive nuclear power plant project, which draws sharp criticism and protests due to both the environmental risks inherent in all nuclear power plants and a number of technical problems that occurred during the construction. In addition, the entire life cycle of nuclear power plants, including the extraction and enrichment of fuel, is associated with greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that reducing emissions in Belarus is achieved through their redistribution to other countries.

Members of the CAN EECCA network draw attention to the fact that in the current situation of political crisis, restrictions on the work of international organizations, suspension of Belarus’ membership in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, persecution of environmental NGOs and activists, liquidation of public organizations, a dramatic reduction in climate projects, programs and investments is expected. Until now, international programs have been the main impetus for the development of climate action at the national and local levels. With no active civil sector, good relations with international partners and democratic processes at all levels any progress in climate policy is impossible.

Georgia

Georgia updated their NDC in May 2021. Since 1990, the country has reduced their emissions by about 50%, yet the updated document states that views this baseline as an ambitious goal by 2030, with international support. At the same time the NDC indicates that in order to achieve 1.5°C goal, Georgia is willing to reduce emissions by 57% of the 1990 level, which means reducing emissions by 14% of the 2018 level.

During COP26, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili pledged that the country would achieve its climate goals by “…increasing the share of wind [farms] and solar panels in the energy market; transforming the country’s urban mobility; developing of low-carbon approaches in construction, industry and waste disposal…”

At COP26 Georgia also joined the pledge of over 100 world leaders to cut methane emissions by 30% be 2030. On top of that, the country plans to start developing a National Adaptation Plan with the support of the Green Climate Fund.

In 2018, Georgia merged the Ministry of Ecology and the Ministry of Agrarian Policy.  Our members note that if Georgia is really committed to the climate cause, they need to have Ministry of Environment as a separate institution in order to implement the climate policy.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the first country in the EECCA region that officially committed to achieving climate neutrality in 2060. However, their ambitions for reducing emissions in terms of the Paris Agreement are anything but ambitious. Kazakhstan is planning to reduce their current emissions by 104 million tons and further keep them within the annual limit of 279 million tons. In 1990, their emissions amounted to 372 million tons, and since then, despite a temporary reduction, those emissions have increased.

Considering the country’s interest in international climate policy and the results of the negotiations at COP26, Kazakhstan should definitely review their NDC, which remains unchanged since 2016.

Today Kazakhstan is working on another strategic document, the Doctrine of Low-Carbon Development. This is the vision of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 provides for the abandonment of new coal-fired generation projects and the gradual abandonment of coal combustion (2021-2025), as well as the complete abandonment of coal production starting from 2050. According to the Minister of Ecology Serıkqali Brekeşev, they are working on introducing a carbon tax within the country, along with paid allocation of greenhouse gas emissions quotas.

It appears that Kazakhstan has set a coal-fired phase-out date of 2050, albeit it’s still unofficial. We hope that 2022 will see the beginning of extensive consultations in the coal-mining regions, as well as analysis of their economic potential, so that their residents would face unemployment should those regions eliminate coal as fuel. Kazakhstan needs a plan for equitable transformation of coal-mining regions.

Kyrgyzstan

On October 9, Kyrgyzstan submitted their updated NDC to the UNFCCC Secretariat. The country plans to increase emissions by 35% compared to 2017 (from 5.5 to 8.5 million tons). Yet their emissions still remain the lowest in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s greater concerns are matters adaptation and access to international funding.

Noteworthy, the NDC drafting process was much more open than anticipated, due to active involvement of experts and public advocates. In 2020, members of our network analyzed participatory mechanisms for Kyrgyz civil society in the county’s climate policy, and gathered residents of different regions for extensive consultations as early as this year. The results of those consultations were sent to the NDC authors and later incorporated in the final version of the document.

During COP26 Conference of the Parties Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov stated that the country “will try to achieve carbon neutrality […] by 2050.” Alas, when it comes to renewable energy sources, the stake is still on hydroelectric power plants. Despite the many mountainous rivers, Kyrgyzstan’s water resources are rapidly depleting and a multitude of hydropower plants can only exacerbate the communities’ vulnerability to climate change.

Moldova

The Republic of Moldova updated their NDC in 2020. With this document, the country has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 compared to the baseline year of 1990. However, one should consider the fact that Moldovan emissions dropped dramatically after the collapse of the Soviet Union, due to reduction of industrial production. If the target rate is compared with the 2016 level, it becomes clear that the emissions will increase by 1%.

Moldova is the only EECCA country whose representatives didn’t speak at the high-level segment of the COP26, which is strange, given their new pro-European Government. The change of power was expected to help Moldova get on the Green Deal and accelerate the implementation of Moldova–European Union Association Agreement. However, it hasn’t been that long, and it still may occur in the near future.

Russia

Russia only submitted their first NDC last year, so we never expected it to be updated in 2021. Their goal is to reduce emissions be 70% of those in 1990 by 2030. In 2018, emissions in Russia (adjusted for land use, land-use change and forestry) were 52.4% of 1990 levels. Given the results of COP26, we hope to see Russia develop and submit an updated NDC that will lead to a real reduction in emissions in the nearest future.

In late October, the Government of the Russian Federation approved their Long-term Development Strategy with Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 2050 with a net zero target planned until 2060. According  to that Strategy, the Russian Federation is to decrease the net emissions of greenhouse gases by 60% compared to 2019 levels, and by 80% compared to 1990 levels. However, members of our network noted that by 2050 Russia only aims to reduce emissions by about 15% compared to 2019 levels (from 67% to 58% of emissions excluding absorption in 1990). However, forests would compensate about 65% of 2050 emissions. In order to achieve such compensation, radical conservation and forest-planting measures are needed, along with combatting forest fires and illegal logging.

During COP26 Russian Vice Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk stated that 86% of Russia’s energy generation is now based on solar, wind, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower, thus making the country “an example of one of the most low-carbon balance sheets in the world.” We cannot agree, as transportation losses of natural gas are not counted for, along with emissions from its combustion, production transportation, enrichment; unaccounted for are enrichment and disposal of uranium ore, as well as the damages caused by large hydroelectric power plants for biodiversity and the balance of water resources.

In late July, we received a response to our request to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation. It said that, while the average temperature on the planet does increase, “…the reasons for such increasing are still disputable…” Otherwise, that reply contained a description of strategies and measures aimed at forest management, protection and restoration.

Tajikistan

A year ago, Tajikistan announced their intention to update their NDC, and did present the updated version prior to COP26. In the best-case scenario, the country promises to keep emissions growth within 18 million tons, which is 3 tons more than recorded in the 2016 emissions inventory.

During his speech at COP26, the Chairman of the Committee for Environmental Protection placed great emphasis on developing the hydropower plants in order to reduce emissions in the energy sector. The situation in this mountainous country is similar to that described above for Kyrgyzstan: hydropower plants can exacerbate the existing problems with access to fresh water not bot agricultural needs and drinking purposes. At the same time, Tajikistan has huge potential for energy saving and developing solar power plants, including autonomous ones.

Members of our network also commented on the closed-off nature of the NDC drafting processes. There was a huge document and only two weeks given to civil society for feedback. Given the difficult political environment in which NGOs operate, their ability to quickly generate and submit expert commentary is very limited.

The role of local communities in this process is proving difficult as well: while they are not involved in consultations, it is them who are expected to perform activities that will ensure the NDC implementation.

Hopefully, Tajikistan will be able to open the processes of climate policies for local residents, realizing how much better adaptation action plans will be in this case.

Ukraine

Five years after presenting their first NDC, Ukraine submitted their updated commitments to the UNFCCC. This time, despite adopting the year of 1990 as a baseline (while Ukraine has since reduced emissions by 62.4%), the country’s goal really leads to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If we take 2019 as a baseline, the reduction, according to the updated goal, will be 7% by 2030.

Ukraine announced the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2060 as part of the National Economic Strategy. Ukraine is also the only EECCA country that currently has a CO2 emissions tax. Alas, that tax is a meager 0.3 Eurocents per ton and is one of the world’s lowest, thus failing in stimulating businesses to modernize.

During the COP26 conference, Ukraine, in fact, announced the date of moving away from coal, which is 2035. However, this date is yet to be approved at the Government level. Right now, Ukraine has a chance to show the seriousness of its climate intentions and set the year of 2035 as the date for phasing out coal, as it was announced at the international platform in Glasgow.

In October 2021, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the Strategy for Environmental Security and Adaptation to Climate Change until 2030. This is the first national document that creates a legislative framework for adaptation measures in Ukraine. Over 150 experts and members of the public joined the drafting of this document over the course of a year. We hope that it will become an impetus for systematic and long-term work on adaptation to climate change in Ukraine.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan submitted their first NDC in 2018, and produced an updated one in 2021. Of all the EECCA countries, only Uzbekistan sets their goals based on the emission levels per GDP unit, rather than on the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. As of today, their emissions per GDP unit are 75% compared to 2010 level, meaning that the country has already achieved their 25% reduction. The new NDC raise that bar to 35%.

Interestingly,  the updated NDC says: “Uzbekistan, like many countries, is considering the introduction [of a greenhouse emissions tax]… which provides for the involvement of every sector of economy and every large enterprise in implementing [given] obligations, thus making a full inventory of sources of emissions in the country.”

One cannot but rejoice at such plans, although the tax introduction alone will not become an effective incentive mechanism towards a low-carbon economy, if its size is negligible, and the revenues will simply be allocated to the general budget of the country.

By 2030, Uzbekistan plans on increasing the share of renewable energy sources (RES) by 25%. To do so, they are planning to built solar (5 GW), wind (3GW) and hydroelectric (1.9 GW) power plants.

Around the time Deputy Prime Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov presented the abovementioned goals of the country at COP26, several regions of Uzbekistan, including the capital city Tashkent, were hit by a dust storm exceeding the maximum permissible concentration by 30 times. According to our network members, the dust storm did not come from the Aral Sea. It was caused by logging in the forest belts that used to protect the fields from wind erosion. This only goes to show the grieve importance of climate adaptation for Uzbekistan. An adaptation plan is currently being developed.

Our findings

It transpires from our short review that there’s certain progress in the EECCA region regarding the climate policies. More and more countries are claiming climate neutrality, which means they understand that without long-term planning, international cooperation in combatting climate change is impossible. Even where specific action plans are lacking, such declarations send a message that the countries care about their “climate reputation”. Our task is to check whether the public has access to monitoring the implementation of such promises, and if the country is creating shorter-term strategies to implementing plans for 2050-2060.

More and more countries are mentioning phasing out coal or increasing the share of RES in their strategies; alas, at the same time many of them focus on developing the nuclear energy. We will be working together with the global community of experts and NGOs to prove that nuclear power cannot and should not be seen as a climate solution.

Meanwhile, the non-governmental sector is increasingly involved in the work both at the local level and in the task groups under the Ministries, submitting their comments on various national documents. Despite all the restrictions and the increased danger of such activities, climate experts and activists are only becoming more confident in themselves and the need for their work.

Just when the Governments of the EECCA countries realize the potential that lies in cooperating with the local population and public organizations, the region will really be able to develop much faster, effectively adapt to climate change and create new green jobs.

CAN EECCA plans to continue maintaining regular communication with the EECCA governments, addressing them with questions and suggestions, as well as supporting civil NGOs in their work and influence on creating a world that is more just and overall safer.