A Call for Climate Action in Central Asia: Gearing up for the Second Central Asia Climate Knowledge Forum

May 8, 2014

Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia

Over 150 policy makers and government practitioners from Central Asia, as well as regional learning institutions, universities, civil society groups, and development partner representatives will gather in Almaty in mid-May to talk about climate change risks and actions. A scientific debate about the reality of climate change is in the past. Countries of Central Asia which rank among the most climate change vulnerable in Europe and Central Asia are facing this challenge today.  The fight against this common enemy, which knows no national boundaries, calls for collaboration to enhance the region’s resilience. 

Already Vulnerable

Central Asia is already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, with warmer temperatures; glacier melt; increased variability in water resources; and frequent and costly weather-related hazards.  In the recent past, there has been a marked increase in drought conditions over much of Central Asia.  This has resulted in serious implications for food security and rural livelihoods.  The 2000 drought caused losses to crop and livestock estimated at 4.8 percent and 0.8 percent of GDP in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan alone.  More frequent episodes of droughts in Kazakhstan, most recently in 2008, 2010 and 2012, are causing sharp fluctuations in wheat production, which heighten concerns about ensuring food security in the region.

River flooding has also become prevalent in the last two decades.  Significant damages occurred during the 2005 floods of the Amu Daria and Syr Daria, affecting Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyz Republic, as well as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  There are estimates that economic losses from weather-related disasters vary from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of GDP per annum for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic.

Rising Costs

Climate change impact is expected to intensify in the coming years.  Ageing infrastructure and inefficient water and land management practices are only some of the obstacles that make Central Asia less resilient to climate change.  The risks and costs of inaction - demonstrated by the economic and social impacts from climate change absent adaptation - are particularly significant in the sectors of agriculture, energy, and water resources.  Taking energy as an example, where year-round, reliable access to electricity is still a concern in the region: climate change will push energy systems to their limits, with impacts on both thermal and hydropower sources, on transmission networks through extreme events, and on demand. 

Agriculture stands in the front line too, with severe risk of water scarcity during the growing season that negatively impacts production, food security, and rural livelihoods in a region where population remains 60 percent rural.  Although certain areas in Central Asia might experience changes that are beneficial, such as longer growing seasons, winter rainfall, and increased winter temperatures, it is necessary to plan ahead to capture these potential benefits.  The Bank’s upcoming Turn Down the Heat III report, to be launched this fall, will look into climate vulnerabilities and development impacts in Central Asia for current, 2C and 4C warming scenarios.

Time to Act

The risks from climate change are well recognized and all countries are taking action.  Country level actions include: climate strategies, policies and programs to reduce vulnerability and move towards climate-resilient development.  In order to be successful in combating this common enemy, countries also need to collaborate to better address climate-induced impact.

Ten months ago, the inaugural Central Asia Climate Knowledge Forum concluded with a demand for greater collaboration.  Five months ago, governments from each country nominated cross-sectoral experts to work on climate-smart solutions at both national and regional levels.  Two months ago, the experts met for the first time and prepared the concept of a proposed regional program. 

So next week, when the Second Central Asia Climate Knowledge Forum is convened in Almaty on May 13-15, representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and their international partners will continue to share the latest international knowledge and studies on climate change.  The discussion will also focus on the proposed regional program for climate resilience.  

In less than one year, collaboration for climate resilience has gained significant momentum in Central Asia.  The proposed multi-year program, designed in partnership with Central Asia countries and development partners, focuses on building institutions for investment preparation and implementation across various sectors.  Discussions at the Forum will build on the enthusiasm and energy behind the proposed regional program and will translate into concrete proposals detailing who does what, how and when, based on the global as well as Central Asia regional knowledge, generated within the last decade through various activities.