Kazakhstan’s Climate Goals — More of the Same?

Although Kazakhstan has not met its emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, their significance for Kazakhstan extends beyond what’s strictly on paper.

Hillhouse Analytics
Apr 20 · 6 min read

By Jordan Bekenstein, Analyst

Kazakhstan’s effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions has failed thus far. Based on current policies, Kazakhstan’s emissions are expected to reach 426–439 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030, compared to 1990 levels of over 402 megatons, or an increase of 6%-9%. This is in contrast to its non-legally binding commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 15%-25% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

This goal seems reasonable at first glance, since Kazakhstan’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped rapidly throughout the 1990s, similar to Russia and other post-Soviet states. When international agreements limiting emissions were being discussed, baselines were set at 1990 and 1992 levels, and as a result, Kazakhstan has had a relatively low bar to pass in keeping its international agreements because it had room to industrialize cheaply and increase emissions while still meeting initial goals. Despite the existence of an emissions trading scheme for carbon pricing, plans to have its electricity generation be 50% renewable energy by 2050, and close cooperation with the EBRD to implement green projects, these modest targets are not being met. In such a case, what do these multilateral agreements mean for the country? Are there any clues in the differences in perception of the two agreements?

The rest of this article aims to understand Kazakhstan’s climate pledges beyond the emissions numbers by looking at how media sentiment towards the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement differs to posit another unstated goal from these multilateral agreements — connectedness.

Kyoto Protocol Associated with Prioritization of Economic Growth

The first noticeable trend is that, in stark contrast to the Paris agreement, the Kyoto Protocol is almost entirely absent from media coverage. Other than a spike in 2009, when Kazakhstan ratified the Kyoto Protocol and set targets, this agreement has been mentioned less and less frequently over time, with the share of news reports that mention this barely surpassing 1% across most sources in any given year after 2013. This makes some sense, as the Kyoto Protocol was supplanted by the Paris Agreement in 2015 and became more history than policy at that time.

Because of the dearth of news about Kyoto, the sentiment of each source is disjointed and inconsistent. However, it’s still possible to draw some insight from them.

Sentiment toward Kyoto was lowest in 2014, and has risen overall since the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015. The dip in 2014 was almost entirely due to two factors. First, the Kazakh Parliament postponed implementation of penalties for exceeding greenhouse gas emissions and even reduced fines for such violations. The government relaxed these penalties to support industry and economic growth. Second, Forbes Kazakhstan covered a UN report that estimated costs to the global economy of failing to control temperature rise.

In figures 1 and 2, we can see that the Kyoto Protocol has been largely sidelined and forgotten about in Kazakhstan. When the media did mention it before 2015, however, it was usually framed in terms of national economic priorities — growing the economy, putting the emissions trading scheme on hiatus, and attracting investment.

When the media did mention the Kyoto Protocol before 2015, however, it was usually framed in terms of national economic priorities — growing the economy, putting the emissions trading scheme on hiatus, and attracting investment.

Media Focuses on International Cooperation Under Paris Agreement

Sentiment toward the Paris Agreement at times varied across different news sources based on their areas of focus. For instance, American government-operated Radio Free Europe’s (RFE) focus on human rights means that it has some reporting that other sources might not have. While its sentiment toward the agreement was quite positive in 2019, it experienced the steepest decline in 2020. This decline was primarily because of their coverage about ecoactivists who died in 2019, including one in Kazakhstan. On the other hand, privately owned Kapital, which focuses on business and economic issues, reported unusually positively in 2020, thanks to Kazakhstan’s new ecological codex and plans to increase the recycling rate by 2025.

Overall, the high frequency of mentions and positive sentiment toward Paris are related to the news outlets’ focus on the international aspect of the agreement, suggesting increased recognition of the need for global cooperation to combat climate change. 2017 shows a clear example of this, as Trump’s election and subsequent declaration of U.S. withdrawal from the agreement dominated headlines. As a result, the sentiment scores across all news outlets sank in connection to this news.

Overall, the high frequency of mentions and positive sentiment toward Paris are related to the news outlets’ focus on the international aspect of the agreement, suggesting increased recognition of the need for global cooperation to combat climate change.

Implications

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About Hillhouse

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This newsletter combines our expertise on Central Asia with cutting-edge sentiment analysis.

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Our newsletter brings to you world-class analysis, combining our regional expertise on Central Asia with insights from our flagship Hillhouse Sentiment Analysis Tool that uses big data to identify opinion trends. Contact us to learn about retaining Hillhouse for custom analysis.

Hillhouse Analytics

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Hillhouse Analytics specializes in data driven analysis on issues related to sustainable development, infrastructure, and energy in frontier markets.

The Hillhouse Newsletter

Our newsletter brings to you world-class analysis, combining our regional expertise on Central Asia with insights from our flagship Hillhouse Sentiment Analysis Tool that uses big data to identify opinion trends. Contact us to learn about retaining Hillhouse for custom analysis.

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