1st Conference on Energy transition, Sustainability and Inclusive Development in Central Asia 2023

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde
Intersectoral School of Governance Baden-Württemberg (ISoG BW)

Central Asia plays only a minor role in the German and European public debate on global climate protection and renewable energies. Global and local energy transitions pose significant challenges for the region, given its rapidly growing population, existing energy shortages, heavy dependence on fossil fuels, and climate change.

In two panels we discussed with experts – academics and practitioners – from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Germany the energy transition, sustainability and inclusive development in these countries. The guiding questions were how to make the energy transition a success, and to what extent it can also promote economic development and human well-being.

The conference concluded a ten-day study tour to various Living Lab projects related to the energy transition in Germany.

Conference program

14:00 – 14:15 Registration

14:15 – 14:30

Introduction by Sebasian Schiek (SPCE Hub)

Current political trends in Central Asia: Beate Eschment (ZOiS) in conversation with Aijan Sharshenova (Crossroads Central Asia).

14:30 – 15:30 Panel discussion I: Energy and energy transition in Central Asia


  • Bahtiyor Eshchanov, Energy Economist, International Agriculture
    University, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  • Alexey Kobzev, German-Kazakh University Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Ainur Sospanova, Chairperson of the Board of QazaqGreen, Kazakhstan
  • Yana Zabanova, Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS) Potsdam, Germany

Beril Ocaklı (ZOiS)

15:30 – 15:45 Coffee break

15:45 – 16:00 Sebastian Schiek (SPCE Hub) in conversation with Christina Wegelein, Head of the Unit for Climate Change Geopolitics, Climate and Security, Water Diplomacy, German Federal Foreign Office.

16:00 – 17:00 Panel Discussion II: Sustainability, Inclusion and Participation


  • Henryk Alff, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
    (HnEE), Germany
  • Kubatbek Muktarbek uulu, Technical University Bishkek, Kyrygzstan
  • Ainura Sagynova, Co-Founder and Director of TAZAR, Kyrgyzstan
  • Nodira Rakhimova, Tech4Impact, Uzbekistan

Sebastian Schiek (SPCE Hub)

17:00 Reception

Central Asia and Europe have a decades-long history of trade in oil, which accounts for up to 70 per cent of interregional trade. The European and global energy transition will not only change these trade relations, but also have a far-reaching impact on local economies. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are rentier states whose economies are based primarily on the export of natural resources. For these two states in particular, the question is how to make the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy and how to generate prosperity. For all Central Asian states, the question is whether and how the local energy transition can be used as an opportunity to promote economic and human development and environmental protection. For example, heating in all countries is currently based on coal burning, which has significant negative impacts on health and the local environment. A conference at the Global Village in Berlin on 20 June discussed these issues. The event was initiated and organised by the research facilitator SPCE Hub, which was founded two years ago and provides a platform for universities and practitioners to carry out experimental, transfer-oriented research projects in the field of energy transition and sustainability. The German Association for East European Studies (DGO), the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) and the Intersectoral School of Governance BW (ISoG BW) were partners in the event, which was co-funded by the DAAD.

Energy transition and development do not take place in a political vacuum, but are closely intertwined with domestic and foreign policy dynamics. Dr Beate Eschment (ZOiS) and Dr Aijan Sharshenova from the Kyrgyz think tank Crossroads Central Asia opened the event with an introduction to these dynamics. Central Asia is currently experiencing upheavals at different levels. In terms of domestic politics, the current phase is characterised by changes at the top of the states – with new presidents in Uzbekistan (2016), Kazakhstan (2019), Kyrgyzstan (2020) and Turkmenistan (2022). The changes at the top have been accompanied by varying degrees of political change. While Uzbekistan’s Mirziyoyev, with his economic opening and modernisation, and Kazakhstan’s Tokayev, with his new emphasis on economic and social policy, have raised international expectations, there are also tendencies towards populism and retraditionalisation in the region, such as under Kyrgyzstan’s President Japarov. Political protest and repression remain acute in the region.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents Central Asia with major challenges, but also opportunities. Central Asia is increasingly in the global spotlight. Russia has stepped up its cooperation with the region to compensate for losses caused by Western sanctions. European and North American countries have also turned their attention to the region. China recently hosted all five Central Asian presidents in Xian, where new opportunities for economic cooperation were discussed. There are signs of increased cooperation with the region from countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Central Asia now has a wider choice of external partnerships, which should benefit the region in the longer term.

European and North American countries have also turned their attention to the region. Christina WEGELEIN, Head of the Geopolitics of Climate Change, Climate and Security, Water Diplomacy Division at the German Foreign Office, reported on German and European cooperation with Central Asia in the panel discussion that followed. The visit of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to the region in 2022 and of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in 2023 underlines the importance that German foreign policy attaches to Central Asia. German-Central Asian cooperation in the field of water goes back many years. Climate adaptation and energy system transformation are playing an increasingly important role, including in programmes such as the Federal Foreign Office’s Green Central Asia programme, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (BMZ) programmes and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology’s (BMWK) Energy Partnership with Kazakhstan. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) also works with partners in Central Asia. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) promotes research cooperation on “green” topics.

The subsequent panel discussion, moderated by Beril OCAKLI (ZOiS), focused on the energy transition in Central Asia. Why should Central Asia care about energy transition at all? Bahtiyor ESHCHANOV, an energy economist from Tashkent, pointed out that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have joined the Paris Climate Agreement and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With this in mind, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are already investing heavily in solar and wind farms. Despite the availability of fossil fuels, the countries already suffer from electricity shortages, which vary according to geography and season, and are likely to get worse in the future. Another problem, he says, is that each country relies on a dominant energy source for power generation, such as oil in Kazakhstan, gas in Uzbekistan and water in Kyrgyzstan. This brings risks, and the time horizons are different. While Kazakhstan’s oil reserves are far from exhausted, Uzbekistan faces the prospect of its gas reserves running out within two decades. Above all, Central Asia should be thinking now about how to integrate into future net zero value chains. Yana ZABANOVA of the Research Institute for Sustainability in Potsdam (RIFS) also confirmed this last point. In her view, Russia’s war on Ukraine is accelerating the European and global energy transition. Finding its place in a decarbonised global economy is becoming an existential challenge for Central Asia. The costs of the transition are likely to be high, but missing the trend and sitting on stranded assets would be much more expensive. In addition to costs, there are other significant challenges to the energy transition, according to Eshchanov, including a lack of skilled labour, low research and administrative capacity, and a low level of civil society activation and participation. Alex KOBZEV of the German-Kazakh University (DKU) underlined this argument. Renewable energy courses already exist, including at the DKU. He sees great potential in regional cooperation in higher education policy to meet the future demand for skilled workers.

So what are the opportunities for the future? Zabanova pointed out that the region’s large and as yet untapped potential in the field of renewable energies also predestines it for the production of green hydrogen. However, the lack of infrastructure and domestic demand for hydrogen is hampering government interest in the issue. Instead, countries should seek to integrate into climate-neutral value chains, for example by building local capacity to produce green steel, green fertiliser, technical elements of solar or wind power plants, or other green products in demand on the global market. Eshchanov agreed and, above all, called for a broader debate on climate-neutral value creation in countries.

Ainur SOSPANOVA, CEO of Qazaq Green, the leading renewable energy association in Kazakhstan, emphasised that countries can learn internationally, but also look back on their own successes and learn from each other. Kazakhstan is a pioneer in Central Asia in terms of early adoption of emissions trading and investment in renewable energy. In their view, both regional and international cooperation play a key role in a successful energy transition.

A successful energy transition and inclusive development require the involvement of relevant stakeholders. The second panel focused on research, environmental and educational projects. Ainur SAGYN is the founder of the Kyrgyz social enterprise Tazar. Together with villagers she reached through the local mosque and other channels, she set up a community centre where plastic waste can be exchanged for popular everyday products. Nadira RAKHIMOVA of the Uzbek NGO Tech4Impact reported on projects to promote young women in STEM and female entrepreneurship. Both Dr Henryk ALFF (HnEE Eberswalde) and Kubatbek MUKTARBEK UULU (TU Bishkek) reported from their research projects on the opportunities and challenges of involving practitioners in research. Together with farmers in Tajikistan, Alff is investigating the transformation of agriculture and the use of agricultural waste for energy production. Muktarbek uulu reported on an ongoing Living Lab project in Bishkek, which is being implemented through the SPCE Hub platform in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bishkek and the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. In dialogue with experts from the city administration and a cycling NGO, suitable and at the same time cheaper options for expanding the existing cycle path network in Bishkek are being tested.

Financed by DAAD with Funds from the German Federal Foreign Office