Virtual conferences held in the run-up to Kazakhstan’s Independence Day on Wednesday (16 December) revealed the country’s priorities for 2021, including tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering on the Paris climate agreement and presiding over the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Kazakhstan, which takes over the presidency of the Russia-led EAEU from Belarus in 2021, is not only a founding member of the union, but to a certain extent its initiator.
In 1994, during a speech at Moscow State University, the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, suggested the creation of a “Eurasian Union” as a regional trading bloc in order to connect with and profit from the growing economies of Europe and East Asia.
The bloc, which seeks to establish institutional relations with the EU, consists of Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan as members, with Cuba, Moldova and Uzbekistan as observers.
Speaking at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting held via videoconference on Friday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Kazakhstan’s priorities would be the full implementation of the EAEU agreement, elimination of trade barriers, development of cooperation within and beyond the union, and strengthening the functionality of the EAEU Commission.
The meeting, attended by the heads of state of the countries concerned, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussed the further development of the EAEU, strategic areas of Eurasian economic integration until 2025, and the development of trade and economic cooperation with its main partners.
The leaders also decided to grant observer status to Cuba and Uzbekistan, which Tokayev said would open significant economic opportunities.
Tokayev said the coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected trade turnover within the EAEU by 13% – about $39 billion.
“The Eurasian Economic Union’s trade with other countries fell even more, by 19%, totalling $447 billion. All this makes reaching effective cooperation, searching for growth reserves, and unlocking the economic potential of our union even more urgent,” said Tokayev.
Since the union was established in 2015, Kazakhstan’s mutual trade with EEU members grew by 33%, including a 25% growth in exports. The volume of investments hailing from the EAEU member states increased by 6%.
He also suggested making more use of the region’s transit potential by modernising transborder sections in transport corridors, including completing the construction and modernisation of Russia’s section along the Western Europe – Western China highway.
“Asia is truly becoming the region of the 21st century. It accounts for 28% of the global GDP and the figure will continue to grow. Currently the trend of ‘turn to the East’ will open new opportunities in transport and logistics. We, as Eurasian countries, must fully unlock our transit potential,” said Tokayev.
A summit of EAEU heads of state will be held in Kazakhstan in May 2021, Mikhail Myasnikovich, head of the Eurasian Economic Commission, was quoted as saying.
The Kazakh President also addressed in a video message the Climate Ambition Summit, which marked five years since the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement. The virtual summit was convened by the UN, Great Britain, and France, in partnership with Italy and Chile.
Tokayev called the fight to tackle climate change “urgent and existential”.
He said that as a landlocked and developing country, Kazakhstan was highly vulnerable to climate change. He acknowledged that the country was still heavily relying on fossil fuels, but was strongly determined to phase them out, decarbonise the economy and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
He said Kazakhstan was embracing nature-based solutions for both mitigation and adaptation.
Responding to climate change involves two possible approaches: reducing and stabilising the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (“mitigation”) and/or adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline (“adaptation”).
In the next five years, Kazakhstan will plant two billion trees to increase carbon absorption and restrain looming desertification as a result of climate change, Tokayev said. He also said Kazakhstan is making climate change adaptation a legal norm in the new environmental code for sectoral and regional policy planning.
Kazakhstan signed and ratified the Paris agreement in 2016, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2030, by mobilizing innovative solutions involving the private sector.
Last week, Kazakhstan revealed plans to extend activities aimed at reviving what was once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the Aral Sea. In the next few years, the government will plant another 177.5 million seedlings in that part of the sea where there has been no water for a long time, in order to prevent desertification.
Described as one of the worst environmental disasters of the world, the Aral Sea began shrinking in Soviet times, after the waters of the Amu Darya River, which used to flow into the Aral, started to sink into Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, never reaching the sea.
Kazakhstan’s solar energy potential is quite large – about 1,500-1,600 kWh/m² per year, and the number of sunny days is on average 2,500 hours per year. The vast steppes of Kazakhstan are open to strong winds from the West and North, which allows for the use of wind power stations as well.
And recently for the first time, the Asian Development Bank raised nearly 14 billion tenge ($32.56 million) in the first green bonds on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]