https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2019/09/09/feature-01
| Environment

Central Asia's Soviet legacy leaves region particularly vulnerable to climate change

Caravanserai and AFP

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Smoke from a power generating station billows into the air over grazing cattle 20km from Bishkek in Novopokrovka, Kyrgyzstan, January 12, 2010. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

A treaty from the 1990s is spotlighting the difficulties Central Asia has in escaping the harmful legacy of Soviet-era environmental abuses.

The Energy Charter Treaty, struck in the 1990s, is meant to boost energy co-operation across borders. Initially it sought to protect fossil fuel investments in developing nations, initially in post-Soviet states in eastern Europe.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are all members. Russia quit the accord in 2009.

The treaty's provisions allowing companies to sue states over blocked projects have become an obstacle to efforts to use clean energy.

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Degmay tailings pond in Tajikistan. Central Asia has more than 1 billion tonnes of toxic uranium tailings, according to the EU. [M. Roberts/IAEA]

Reforming a treaty with 50 signatory states could take years, observers have warned.

"It's not going to be easy," Carlo Pettinato, a European Commission investment official, said in Brussels, according to an AFP report last week.

Antiquated factories and power plants

That treaty, with its built-in protection for old infrastructure, is hampering Central Asian states trying to clean up their air, land and water. Their antiquated factories and power stations burn up fossil fuels and spew harmful substances into the atmosphere.

Soviet engineers built such facilities because the Kremlin prioritised production statistics, while air pollution or climatic consequences to the local environment were largely ignored.

Old, dirty factories create significant environmental problems in Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek environmentalist Ulan Ismailov said in an interview.

"The level of air pollution in the area where they are situated exceeds the permissible limit several-fold!" said Ismailov. "In light of global warming and the concomitant greenhouse effect, relying on such businesses will create a serious threat to the environment and to public health."

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- the region's two largest economies -- are still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil-fuel-burning power plants, which release carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Kazakhstan still depends on the worst offender, coal-burning plants, for almost 80% of its electricity, according to the US Department of Commerce. Water, solar and wind installations provide less than 13% of Kazakhstan's power.

To protect Kazakhstan's energy security, "it's necessary to attract investments in traditional electricity, modernise [expand] plant capacities and build new power stations that use renewable sources of electricity," Arman Kashkinbekov, general director of the Nur-Sultan-based Association for Renewable Electricity of Kazakhstan, said in an interview.

Uzbekistan is almost entirely dependent on hydrocarbons for its electricity. In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 79.7% of its power came from oil, coal or natural gas, according to the International Energy Agency. Hydro-power accounted for the rest.

About 40% of the power stations built by the Soviet Union, though still operating, have reached the end of their useful life, said Kashkinbekov.

The remaining 60% are not far behind, he added.

Difficulties emerge in agriculture

Agriculture is similarly affected by -- and vulnerable to -- climate change.

Kyrgyz farmers, for example, are seeing hotter summers, colder winters, rainier springs and drier autumns than before, Dmitry Vetoshkin, director of the Bishkek-based environmental NGO Archa Initiative, said last December in an interview.

Such weather makes farming even more difficult in a country that is 93% mountainous.

The South Korea-based Green Climate Fund last December allocated $10 million (699 million KGS) for climate change adaptation activities in Kyrgyzstan.

Agricultural decline has political consequences in the region.

Competition for scarce farmland and water has led to frequent border disputes and violence in the Fergana Valley, the fertile region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Making the situation even worse, the valley is a hotbed for extremist recruitment.

In an effort to help, the European Union (EU) and the World Bank signed an agreement in May for a new $7.8 million grant to support water and energy security in Central Asia.

Soviet agricultural abuse long ago left behind one of the "planet's worst environmental disasters", as described by the London Telegraph in 2010: the depletion of the Aral Sea. Starting in the 1960s, the Soviet Union drained the Aral Sea of about 90% of its volume, according to Vox.com.

To irrigate Uzbek cotton farms, the Soviets diverted the rivers feeding what was once the world's fourth largest lake.

Russian indifference to radiation's dangers

The Soviet regime and its Russian successor state have provided a poor example of environmental stewardship in yet another sphere, continuing negligent practices with radioactive materials that stretch back decades.

The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine in 1986 showered Europe with lethal radiation. In August, during testing of a missile in Arkhangelsk Province, Russia, an explosion killed five members of the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre and released elevated radiation levels.

Also in August, the Kremlin disregarded environmentalists' warnings and launched the world's first floating nuclear reactor on a 5,000km-long journey along the Russian Arctic coast.

In addition, the Kremlin has left Central Asia to cope with an estimated billion tonnes of uranium tailings festering at Soviet-era mines, forcing the region to seek help from the EU.

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Quite right, the USSR was a totalitarian colonial empire of genocides and criminals

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Forgive us, us Russians. We brought evil upon a great many.

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We should not have let the USSR come into our country. We'd do better to develop with the USA and Europe instead of being occupied by these beasts.

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[You] should have been developing under the influence of the USA, just like Ukraine, LIBYA and Iraq have been developing nowadays. I wish the best of luck to those who think the USA cares about your existence!

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South Korea is better than North [Korea]. Germany is better than the DNR [so-called Donetsk People's Republic, a breakaway region of Ukraine] and Abkhazia

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On the plus side, Afghanistan has no 'Soviet' legacy, and they are resistant (are they not?) to climate change.

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The Soviets even left a big 'footprint' in Afghanistan. Ten years of aggressive war. All the same, they suffered inglorious defeat.

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Eternally damned "Redland" and Russia

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It is so right that damn USSR collapsed.

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They didn't call the USSR 'the Axis of Evil' for nothing. It was [the axis of evil] indeed.
[the phrase axis of evil was first used in 2002 by President George Bush about the governments sponsoring terrorism. The USSR was proclaimed an Evil Empire by Pres. Reagan in 1983]

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The idea behind the article is negative toward the USSR and now Russia. It depends on the point of view. It is like Americans are angels who left Iraq in shambles and bombed Yugoslavia. And [they] are doing many other [bad] things in the world. The environment is in peril everywhere. Of course, we are all upset because of the Aral [Sea]. Pointing fingers won't likely do any good. Let's think together; how can we save what's left? Let's at least get rid of the plastic bags as much as we can.

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[They] have been poisoning their population with radiation to this day and say nothing about it. It was the same in the USSR. The USSR is evil.

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This is an stupid and biased article! The USSR built everything the same as the US and Europe did at the time. The trend of taking the environment into account started developing just recently. There was a time when they had redone and modernised everything "over there" but "over here" it never changed due to various reasons. Sometimes, it is laziness and poor judgement of politicians, sometimes it's just money shortage. And now it looks like an attempt to use the outcome to tarnish a once truly powerful and influential state. For example, just remember the atoll reefs or the recent Fukushima [meltdown]. Well, you'd be developing along with a different country, so what? Did the Soviets instill this thought into your head too? Is developing on your own not an option? It would be the same... with the same mindset.

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They left behind so many poisonous nuclear testing grounds. They'd do better to conduct [nuclear tests] back home in Russia.

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Nonsense

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We need the Soviets to hand back everything they plundered; they should resuscitate all the people they murdered in genocides and then go to hell. It's better cooperating and developing with the West, because [the Soviets] built the VAZ autos and whatnot, those buckets of bolts. [VAZ is a Russian automaker].

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That's easy! Since the "Soviets" made your life miserable, demolish ALL the buildings built there and then, dwell in yurts, go pee in the steppe, and run through the fields. Because driving a "Camry" and stuffing yourselves in a restaurant are so hard for you, poor things.

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Here in Uzbekistan, the Soviets killed our Aral Sea, and it caused a environmental disaster. We'd be better off developing together with the USA.

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Twenty-eight years wasn't enough to change all that. One can ruin Samarkand and Bukhara. Can we contaminate rivers ourselves too? Are we cutting down trees? Maybe we can start changing ourselves to make something good.

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Russia is still wild; people relieve themselves behind their houses and use burdock leaves to wipe their arses. They are not a culture but unruly rabble and sots.

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It is necessary to draw the right conclusions. The whole system is obsolete. We need to look at developed countries and implement their system through investments. The years after the USSR collapsed have shown Russia is not developing, even today.

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Oh, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, poor babies! If not for those Soviet bastards we would be still burning kizyaks today [pressed dung 'cakes' used as fuel], living happily in yurts from sunup to sundown, without knowledge of sin! No, they came, took away your mules, handed industrialisation over to each one of you... and now you have to work. Instead, you could been catching sheep, tearing its leg off, eating that, and calling it a day!

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The USSR also conducted inhumane experiments at the nuclear testing ground on living people, and perpetrated genocides of Caucasian peoples, Kazakhs, and Ukrainians. It was a terrorist country.

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Good, it didn't take much to make the Soviet Union collapse.

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Anti-Soviet nonsense

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The Soviets built plants in Kazakhstan, and 90% of those plants worked for the [Soviet] Union, not Kazakhstan. Essentially, they exported our natural resources to Russia. And they simply obliterated the Aral sea.

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What barred you from doing everything your way over 28 years of independence?

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Thanks to the "Soviets" Kazakhs have their state. Where would Kazakhs or Tajiks or Uzbeks or Kyrgyz be without the Great October Revolution?

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Russia occupied Kazakhstan before the revolution. Countries thrive just fine without Russia. One good example is South and North Korea. The USSR also managed man-made Holodomores and genocides of Kazakhs and Ukrainians. These crimes are worse than Hitler's deeds.

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Our statehood would be better off without the Soviet mentality. By the way, Russia doesn't have any nationhood any more. It is just a bunch of gangsters and a kingpin served by labourers and lackeys. There's no judiciary, no police, no parliament. It is not a state. It is Gang-land.

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Where is it any different? It is the same here as well, that's why half of our people work and live in Russia.

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Because during Soviet times, mean Russia egoistically built all major plants and factories within Russia.

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