Conferences on Energy transition, Sustainability and Inclusive Development in Central Asia

2024: Conference in Brussels

SPCE Hubs’ next conference will take place in Brussels on 15 or 16 April 2024 in cooperation with the University of Ghent and other partners.

2023: Conference in the Berlin Global Village

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. The global as well as the local energy transition pose major challenges for the region in view of a rapidly growing population, already existing energy shortages, heavy dependence on fossil fuels and climate change.

On 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 the energy transition can succeed and to what extent it can also promote economic development and human well-being.

The conference concluded a ten-day study tour visiting different 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

Speakers

  • 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

Chair
Beril Ocaklı (ZOiS)

15:30 – 15:45 Coffee break

15:45 – 16:00 Gabriele Freitag (DGO) 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

Speakers

  • 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

Chair
Sebastian Schiek (SPCE Hub)

17:00 Reception

Conference report

Central Asia and Europe share a history of decades of oil trade, which generates up to 70 per cent of the interregional trade volume. The European and global energy transition will not only change these trade relations, but also have far-reaching effects on the local economies. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are so-called rentier states whose economies are primarily based on the export of resources. For these two states in particular, the question arises as to how the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy can succeed and how the states can then generate prosperity. For all Central Asian states, the question arises as to whether and how the local energy transition can be used as an opportunity to promote economic and human development and environmental protection. For example, heat generation in all countries is currently based on coal firing with significant negative effects on health and the local environment. These issues were discussed at a conference on 20 June at the Berlin Global Village. The event was initiated and organised by the Research Facilitator SPCE Hub, which was founded two years ago and offers universities and practitioners a platform for the implementation of 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 of the event, which was co-financed by the DAAD.

Energy transition and development do not take place in a political vacuum but are closely interwoven with domestic and foreign policy dynamics. Dr Beate Eschment (ZOiS) and Dr Aijan Sharshenova from the Kyrgyz think tank Crossroads Central Asia began the event with an introduction to these dynamics. Central Asia is currently experiencing upheavals at various 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 intensified its cooperation with the region in order to compensate for the losses caused by Western sanctions. European and North American countries have also turned their attention to the region. Recently, China hosted all five Central Asian presidents in Xian, where new opportunities for economic co-operation were discussed. There are signs of increased co-operation 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 Federal Foreign Office, reported on German and European cooperation with Central Asia in the following panel discussion. The visit to the region by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in 2022 and 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. The topics of climate adaptation and energy transition are increasingly playing a role, including in programmes such as ‘Green Central Asia’ of the Federal Foreign Office, the programmes of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the energy partnership with Kazakhstan of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate (BMWK). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is also working with partners in Central Asia. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research promotes research cooperation on ‘green’ topics.

The subsequent panel discussion, moderated by Beril OCAKLI (ZOiS), focussed on the energy transition in Central Asia. Why should Central Asia concern itself with the energy transition at all? Bahtiyor ESHCHANOV, energy economist from Tashkent, emphasised that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have joined the Paris Climate Agreement and have committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are already investing considerable sums in solar and wind parks with this in mind. However, Eshchanov emphasised that the actual motivation of the countries for the energy transition should primarily be based on domestic political considerations: despite the availability of fossil fuels, the countries are already suffering from a shortage of electricity to varying degrees, depending on geography and season, and this is likely to worsen in the future. He sees a further problem in the fact that each country relies on a dominant energy source for energy production, such as oil in Kazakhstan, gas in Uzbekistan and water in Kyrgyzstan. This harbours risks, and the time horizons are different. While Kazakhstan’s oil reserves are far from being exhausted, Uzbekistan is threatened by the imminent drying up of its gas sources within two decades. Above all, however, Central Asia should consider now how it can integrate itself into future net-0 value chains. Yana ZABANOVA from the Research Institute for Sustainability in Potsdam (RIFS) also confirmed the last point. In her opinion, Russia’s war against 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 out on the trend and sitting on stranded assets would be much more expensive. In addition to the costs, there are other considerable challenges for the energy transition, which, according to Eshchanov, lie primarily in a shortage of skilled labour, low capacities in the areas of research and administration and a low level of activation and involvement of civil society. Alex KOBZEV from the German-Kazakh University (DKU) emphasised this argument. Study programmes for renewable energies already exist, including at the DKU. In order to meet the future demand for skilled labour, he sees great potential in regional cooperation in higher education policy.

So what opportunities are there for the future? Zabanova pointed out that the large and as yet untapped potential in the field of renewable energies also predestines the region for the production of green hydrogen. However, the lack of infrastructure and domestic demand for hydrogen stand in the way of governments’ existing interest in the topic. A one-sided focus on hydrogen exports would be detrimental anyway; instead, the countries should strive for integration into climate-neutral value chains, for example by building local capacities for the production of green steel, green fertiliser, the manufacture of technical elements of solar or wind power plants or other green products that are in demand on the global market. Eshchanov agreed with this and, above all, called for a broader debate on climate-neutral value creation in the countries.

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

A successful energy transition and inclusive development requires the involvement of relevant stakeholders. The second panel focussed on research as well as environmental and educational projects. Ainur SAGYN is the founder of the Kyrgyz social enterprise Tazar. Together with villagers, whom 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 from the Uzbek NGO Tech4Impact reported on projects to promote young women in the STEM sector 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 utilisation of agricultural waste for energy production. Muktarbek uulu reported on an ongoing Living Lab laboratory project in Bishkek, which is being implemented via the SPCE Hub platform in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bishkek and Hochschule 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.