Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

Mar 22, 2012


The Republic of Kazakhstan is located in the central part of the Eurasian continent, at an equal distance from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It borders on Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. The capital city is Astana.

Being the world’s 9th largest country and located in the centre of Eurasia, Kazakhstan is also the largest landlocked country in the world. These resulted in a specific climate and a peculiar natural system of the country, which seems to absorb the brightest examples of landscape of both continents. In addition, complicated history of Kazakh people and constant interaction of nomadic lifestyle with settled people in South Kazakhstani ancient cities, have lead to a unique and authentic culture of Kazakhstan.

In order to preserve the rich world of plants and wildlife, a network of national parks and nature reserves were established in the country. The most famous ones are Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, which is a habitat for the snow leopard; Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve famous for its pink flamingos; Altyn Emel and Katon-Karagay National Parks.

Environmental challenges in Kazakhstan
The environment of Kazakhstan began to suffer serious harm during the Soviet period. The country now faces an urgent need to address the Soviet legacy of ecological mismanagement.
  • Between 1949 and 1991 the Soviet government conducted about 70% of all of its nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, mostly in the north-eastern area near the city of Semipalatinsk (now Semey). Nearly 500 nuclear explosions occurred both above and below ground, while more than 40 nuclear detonations occurred at other testing grounds in western Kazakhstan and in the Kyzyl Kum desert. Inhabitants were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation because the Soviet government did not evacuate or even warn nearby populations. In 1991 the government of Kazakhstan put a stop to the practice. However, the testing grounds, and perhaps even underground aquifers, remain highly contaminated. The nation also has 30 uranium mines, which add to the problem of uncontrolled release of radioactivity.
  • Another ecological disaster area in Kazakhstan is the Aral Sea, which began to shrink when the Soviet government initiated a drive to increase cotton yields in the arid lands of Central Asia. Excessive irrigation substantially decreased inflow to the Aral, and its shoreline began to recede rapidly. By 1993 the Aral Sea had lost an estimated 60% of its volume, in the process breaking into 3 unconnected segments. The reduction in the water surface has exacerbated regional climatic extremes. The eroded salt- and pesticide-laden soil was carried away by wind and its deposition on nearby fields effectively sterilized them. Increasing salinity and reduced habitat have killed the Aral Sea's fish, hence destroying its once-active fishing industry, and the receding shoreline has left the former port of Aral'sk more than 60 kilometers from the water's edge. The Aral Sea crisis is also associated with a number of health problems, including respiratory infections and parasitic diseases.
  • By contrast, the water level of the Caspian Sea has been rising steadily since 1978 for reasons that scientists have not been able to explain fully. At the northern end of the sea, more than a million hectares of land have been flooded. Experts estimate that if current rates of increase persist, the coastal city of Atyrau, eighty-eight other population centers, and many of Kazakstan's Caspian oil fields could be submerged by 2020. Furthermore, the Caspian Sea also suffers from pollution. Some new environmental regulation of the oil industry began in 2003, but new oil operations on the coast add to that sea’s already grave pollution.
  • Other environmental issues in Kazakhstan include soil pollution from the overuse of pesticides in agriculture. Desertification has eliminated substantial tracts of agricultural land. Wind erosion has also had an impact in the northern and central parts of the republic because of the introduction of wide-scale dryland wheat farming. By the mid-1990s, an estimated 60 percent of the republic's pastureland was in various stages of desertification.
  • Plants in industrial centers lack controls on effluents into the air and water. Air pollution in Kazakhstan is another significant environmental problem. Acid rain damages the environment within the country and also affects neighboring countries. Most of Kazakhstan’s water supply has been polluted by industrial and agricultural runoff and, in some places, radioactivity. The city of Almaty is particularly threatened, in part because of the postindependence boom in private automobile ownership.
  • Kazakhstan's wildlife is in danger due to the overall level of pollution. In the areas where pollution is the most severe, 11 species of mammals and 19 species of birds and insects are already extinct. As of 2001, 15 mammal species, 15 bird species, 5 types of freshwater fish, and 36 species of plant are listed as threatened. Threatened species include the argali, Aral salmon, great bustard, snow leopard, and tiger. The mongolian wild horse has recently become extinct in the wild.
  • Kazakhstan is already experiencing rising temperatures and increased duration of heat waves. Rising temperatures as a result of climate change will also impact wheat production and other income generating activities such as sheep breeding. Mudflows due to increased rainfall and melting of glaciers will present a serious danger to people in certain areas. In addition, the melting of these glaciers could contribute to conflict situations over water supplies, as many of the glaciers border other countries.

Citizens’ community involvement
A population survey revealed that 36.5% of respondents are active members of a social organisation such as a religious, sporting, recreational, arts, music or educational, humanitarian or charitable organisation. Also, 19.7% of respondents said that they do voluntary work for at least one social organisation, while 27.9% of respondents engage in social activities in sports, voluntary or service-based organisations several times a year.
However, membership in CSOs is still low, and the overall levels of formal volunteering are limited. While engagement in community activities is relatively diversified, the main concern in terms of civic engagement in Kazakhstan is the very low level of political engagement.
The low rate of organisations with environmental policies, in addition to the question of implementation, suggests that there are significant challenges ahead for Kazakh CSOs in their efforts to keep to environmental standards.
Civic engagement in Kazakhstan seems to be characterised by less extensive engagement that is more social than political in nature. However, the social life of the country is characterised by greater depth and diversity. Eliminating an apparent general apathy among the population towards volunteering will be important for further developing civil society.
Government environmental policies
The main environmental law is the Environmental Code 2007, which replaced several environmental laws to align the national law more closely with the prevailing international standards of environmental regulation. In this respect, the Environmental Code establishes:
General principles of environmental legislation, such as sustainable development, duty of care to the environment and free access to ecological information.

Additional rules relating to environmental protection are contained in a number of laws including the:
  • Law on Subsoil and Subsoil Use 2010,
  • Water Code 2003,
  • Forest Code 2003.

Companies and individuals producing discharges into the environment (often called environmental users) must obtain special permits from the Ministry and executive authorities. There are two types of environmental permits covering all types of emissions. Non-compliance with permitting requirements can result in administrative liability (mostly fines) or in certain cases, criminal liability. Administrative fines can be very substantial, reaching up to 1,000% of the cost of emissions discharged in excess of the limits set out in the permit.
Water pollution is regulated by the Environmental Code and Water Code. Permits for water pollution are issued within the integrated permitting regime. Limits for discharge of sewage are set out in permits for environmental emissions. National legislation relating to water use is based on the principle of water pollution prevention. Environmental users must perform activities aimed at the minimisation of water pollution, including mandatory water refinement before industrial discharge of sewage. Discharge of sewage is prohibited in certain areas (for example, the northern part of the Caspian Sea and places of potable water intake). Discharge of certain dangerous pollutants, such as radioactive and toxic wastes, is also prohibited.
Air pollution is regulated by the Environmental Code. Permits for air pollution are issued within the integrated permitting regime. Limits for discharge of pollutants into the air are defined in the permits for environmental emissions. Discharge of pollutants into the air without a permit is prohibited and may result in administrative penalties. Certain types of activities which normally result in air pollution are also prohibited, including the flaring of associated gas in the process of oil extraction. The regulator can require the polluter to clean up or pay compensation for air pollution. Depending on the circumstances, penalties can vary up to 1,000% of the cost of emissions discharged in excess of the limits set out in the permit.
Law on Energy Efficiency 1997 provides general principles of energy efficiency.
The regulatory regime for waste is generally outlined in the Environmental Code. In addition, Kazakhstan is a party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Generally, storing of waste outside specially allocated landfills is prohibited. Waste disposal can only be performed on the land plots approved by the Ministry, local municipality and Sanitary and Epidemiological authority. A special licence is required for the treatment and transportation of certain types of waste (such as radioactive waste). Treatment of hazardous waste is highly regulated.
Land contamination is regulated by the Environmental Code and Land Code 2003. Limits of permitted polluting substances are set out in the permits for environmental emissions. The compliance with these limits is verified by compliance inspections carried out by the Ministry and other state authorities on a regular basis. On the basis of the results of the inspections, the authorities may order clean-up.
Kazakhstan has not yet implemented any special environmental or carbon tax. Existing environmental payments include:
  • Payments for emissions to the environment. These are payable by individuals and companies that produce harmful air emissions, as well as emissions of pollutants and discharges/industrial waste.
  • Payments for using land plots, water resources, forests and specially protected natural territories. These are payable by individuals and companies that use the relevant objects of natural resources, generally, on a temporary basis.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
A broader culture of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility among the private sector in Kazakhstan seems still to be embryonic. The social base of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility from which CSOs could potentially draw resources and support remains weak.
Sources and further reading: