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.
- 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.
- Procedures for mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments for certain activities.
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.
- 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.