ALMATY, September 27, 2023 – Central Asia’s rapid urbanization has been accompanied by fragmented spatial expansion patterns, low access to urban services, and serious climate and environmental challenges, says the latest World Bank study that reviewed urban growth in the region. Representatives of five Central Asia countries, including Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan came together in Almaty to brainstorm around policies that can help promote the development of low-carbon, climate-resilient cities and regions.
In 2011, for the first time in human history, more than half of the global population was living in cities. This trend is expected to continue, with the urban population doubling in size by 2050, which means seven out of ten people will live in cities. According to the recent findings from the Central Asia Resilient and Low-carbon Cities study (CARL-cities), over the last 30 years, the population within the largest urban areas in the region on average grew by 48 percent, consuming 538 sq km of land. Overall, larger urban areas are growing faster than the rest of the region, both in terms of population and physical extent, accounting for almost half of the urban land consumption in the region. As a result, these areas generate greater urban-related GHG emissions, mainly from the building and transport sectors.
The macro-assessment of 48 cities with a population of over 150,000 people across five countries shed light on their urban growth trajectories and trends in terms of urban form, urban environment, urban mobility, accessibility to urban amenities, and economic activity. The study applies quantitative, qualitative, and spatial analysis to present evidence-based recommendations and policy options. Using international data, a spatial database on urban development characteristics for the studied cities is established and allows comparison of common indicators across the region. For five selected cities – Almaty, Dushanbe, Bishkek, Namangan, and Shakhrisabz – the study provides urban development modeling based on business-as-usual and vision scenarios, which suggests certain changes in policies and key investments and actions towards sustainability.
“This analysis, as well as productive discussions we have had this week, will help municipal administrations of Central Asia to come up with climate-smart planning, investments, and financing solutions,” says Tatiana Proskuryakova, World Bank Country Director for Central Asia. “This is critical for reducing carbon footprint, energy consumption, and GHG emissions in cities across Central Asia, setting them on a greener and more resilient development path under a changing climate.”
According to the study, the urban areas in Central Asia largely display less sustainable spatial expansion patterns. Only 2 percent of the studied urban areas display a continuous peri-urban expansion, and the rest show a leapfrog or fragmented development patterns. At the same time, urban areas have generally low population density. While cities continue to be powerful economic drivers, their economic trends vary. In 64 percent of the selected cities, economic activity has increased over the past decade, while the rest declined (as proxied using night-time lights).
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan is delighted to host all the participants of this event in Almaty. This is indeed timely for the region to discuss threats and opportunities as well as further in-country steps and regional cooperation on the way to advance the development of low-carbon climate resilient cities and regions,” – said Islambek Raimov, Deputy head of the Representative office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Almaty.
Almost all of the urban areas are estimated to have very low access to urban services and amenities such as health and education facilities, public spaces, sports, and cultural venues. The regional average of walking accessibility to education facilities is around 6 percent, while that for health facilities is approximately 25 percent. Similarly, only an estimated 1 percent of the population has walking access to public spaces. Most Central Asia cities have insufficient provision of urban green areas (regional average estimated at 7.6 sqm per capita) in comparison to the European cities (an average of 18.2 sqm per capita). Consequently, the low share of green coverage increases the population’s exposure to urban heat island effects, hence impacting quality of life.
The good news is that Central Asia cities could reduce their GHG emissions, tackle environmental and climate challenges, and improve livability by undertaking aggressive urban policy measures and green capital investments toward low-carbon and climate-resilient development. The scenario modeling showed that these could be achieved with similar or lower costs than in a “no-intervention” scenario.
The event is attended by representatives of relevant Central Asia government ministries, city administrations, policymakers, experts and practitioners, and development partners responsible for or involved in urban development, city management, planning, construction, utilities, greening, disaster risk management, climate change mitigation, and adaptation. Participants reviewed successful examples in urban planning, green spaces, flood management, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, and services from around the world and discussed opportunities to adapt them to CA cities.
The meeting is organized by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)’s City Resilience Program, in collaboration with the Urban Forum Kazakhstan, and supported by the Climate Support Facility, and the Global Program on Sustainable Urban and Regional Development (SURGE).