Central Asia: a greener path to achieving the Global Goals

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Protecting nature in Uzbekistan. Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

In the Central Asia region, the depletion of natural capital has become an urgent concern. A stark reminder of the region’s challenges is the drying up of the Aral Sea, which remains one of the world’s largest human-made ecological disasters. The following numbers are particularly worrying:

Tajikistan loses $442 million annually, almost 8 percent of GDP, due to land degradation; improving land management could generate a net benefit of $583 per person annually.

In Uzbekistan, 41 percent of the cultivated land is used to grow cotton, which requires more than 90% of extracted freshwater for irrigation. However, 20% of water is lost due to inefficiencies and structural deficiencies.

These figures reflect decades of intensive and pesticide-based agriculture, breakneck extraction of minerals and razing of forests. And they should serve as a wake-up call to do things differently.

Now take these numbers. The Kyrgyz Republic has 840,000 million tons of fuel equivalent of renewables, only 0.2 percent of which are utilized at present.

Kazakhstan has taken drastic measures to protect its steppes, home to unique plant and animal species and a significant source of revenue for communities across vast surface areas.

So how do we make sure the region’s development efforts are premised on a type of economic growth that preserves the natural resources future generations depend on?

For starters, natural capital wealth needs to be inventoried and accounted for. Up to now, policy-makers and private and public entities have made decisions without bringing exhaustion and deterioration of natural assets into the equation.

Governments need new tools to appropriately account for their natural capital wealth and any changes in it. We need to measure levels of natural capital and environmental sustainability better, and we need to demonstrate their links to inequality and human development more effectively.

Second, communities have a stake in natural resource use and should be empowered to make the decisions that matter to them, including whether to protect a forest, stop the expansion of a polluting factory or shore up green businesses.

Third, there should be enough natural resources to power the economy, provide clean and affordable energy, food and water for all segments of society. Governments and development partners need to invest massively in renewables, energy efficiency and conservation. Education campaigns should also pave the way for more sustainable consumption behaviors.

Agenda 2030 tells us to leave no one behind. The challenges may seem intimidating, but with enough willpower, natural resources can contribute to the well-being of people in the region today and for decades to come.

I’m currently attending a summit in Almaty that will aim to create a single vision for accelerating green economy practices as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) begin to be implemented.

Central Asia can lead the way. It needs to start gearing up for that now.

Blog post Europe & the CIS Tajikistan Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Energy Renewable energy Water and sanitation Environment Land and natural resources

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