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.
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
By analyzing how Kazakh media covers both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, we can identify differences and similarities in the country’s perception of both agreements.
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
The Paris Agreement, on the other hand, sees considerably more coverage across most sources, which suggests that the Kazakh media has started paying greater attention to climate policy.
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.
Reality and intent clearly do not match in Kazakhstan. This can be seen in simply comparing the emissions reduction targets with the projected increase in emissions, but media sentiment provides a more nuanced picture and explains why this is the case. As the years went by, positive sentiment continued to increase, even though the country was falling behind on its commitments. However, this divergence does not mean Kazakhstan is being deliberately misleading or trying to hide the truth of the matter. Rather, the context for reporting matters. The international focus of articles that mentioned the Paris Agreement, compared to those that mentioned the Kyoto Protocol, draws on the increased global interconnectedness in recent decades. Under Kyoto, Kazakhstan took advantage of its modest commitments to sell carbon credits to other countries and invest in its own (carbon-emitting) economy. With Paris, however, there is now greater focus on acting with others in both the East and West to reach its stated goals. As a result, in Kazakhstan, the targets are seen as more aspirational than concrete. What this means, ultimately, is that the government has begun to see value in the opportunities for international cooperation presented by the Paris agreement.
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About the Author
Jordan Bekenstein is an analyst at Hillhouse Analytics. A graduate student at Georgetown University, studying Eurasian, Russian, and East European Affairs, he has particular interest in Sino-Russian cooperation and competition, as well as political legitimacy in the post-Soviet space. He speaks Russian and Mandarin and previously spent two years teaching English in Harbin, China.
Hillhouse Analytics specializes in data driven analysis on issues related to sustainable development, infrastructure, and energy in frontier markets, helping organizations understand today’s challenges and opportunities. We bring world-class expertise to regional challenges by combining the best of international academic and research practices with a rigorous and informed local perspective, delivering the best of both words. We achieve this through our custom-built Hillhouse Sentiment Analysis Tool that tracks opinion trends across local news media. Our tool was shortlisted as a finalist for the World Bank’s Global Disruptive Tech Challenge 2021. To learn more about retaining our team for custom analysis and reports, please click here.