CSI - Center for Strategic Initiatives
CSI - Center for Strategic Initiatives

Does Kazakhstan need a new Environmental Code?

Energy Outlook 2019

01 october 2019

Does Kazakhstan need a new Environmental Code?

Environmental problems today come to the fore. The quality of water, air, the extent of atmospheric pollution, the problem of waste processing – for us these issues are becoming more and more urgent year by year. Therefore, the creation of a separate ministry of ecology, geology and natural resources came quite natural. The new ministry has actively taken up the work. A draft concept of a new Environmental Code has already been submitted for public comment. Why is it needed and what are the “revolutionary” ideas proposed by the new environmental ministry?

Ecology worsens year by year

Despite the declaration of the transition of Kazakhstan to the path of sustainable development (Kazakhstan-2030 and Kazakhstan-2050 Strategies), the adoption of the “Concept for the transition of the Republic of Kazakhstan to green economy” in 2013 (transition to energy-saving and green technologies), and the official course on adopting the standards of OECD countries in various fields, including environmental protection, the environmental situation in Kazakhstan continues to be extremely tense. Even according to official data, the environmental situation in the republic can be characterized as stably negative, without a clear tendency to improve.

An analysis of current environmental problems in Kazakhstan shows an increase in the concentration of air polluting substances, a deterioration in the quality of water used, and an increase in the annual waste generation from production and consumption

It is estimated that 75% of the country is at increased risk of environmental destabilization. More than 5 million residents of Kazakhstan live in areas with polluted air, of which 2 million live in conditions of extremely high pollution levels. The annual volume of atmospheric pollution in Kazakhstan ranges from 3-4 million tons.

85% of industrial emissions are accounted for by 43 large corporations. In 15 large cities of the country, the permissible level of air pollution is exceeded. The most polluted atmosphere is in the East Kazakhstan, Karaganda and Pavlodar regions. The land of the Kyzylorda, Atyrau and West Kazakhstan regions is also contaminated by heavy metals and oil products.

According to experts in the field of health and environment, Kazakhstan’s losses due to the negative effect on public health from air pollution are more than $2 billion a year. This is the damage caused to the health of the population due to the deterioration of the environmental situation, taking into account the total costs of treatment, diagnostics and prevention of pathologies of the population, average life expectancy, costs of payment of sick leave and pensions for people with disabilities.

The oil and gas sectors rank first among industries in terms of investment. Despite this, in the main areas of oil and gas production and oil refining - Atyrau and Mangistau regions - accidents and oil spills occur. Associated gas flaring practices also cause significant environmental damage. The increased thermal background and the acidification of environmental components around the fields during gas combustion have a negative effect on the soil, vegetation, and wildlife in the areas adjacent to the oil complexes, not to mention the increase in the greenhouse effect.

As a result of the activity of companies of the mining and metallurgical complex in Kazakhstan, more than 20 billion tons of industrial waste accumulated with an annual increase of about 1 billion tons, including 230 million tons of radioactive waste. 95% of the total volume of ore mined goes to waste, often extremely toxic and placed in inappropriate places for storage.

One of the most pressing environmental problems is the state of water resources. Their presence and condition are vital factors that have a decisive influence on the country’s economic development. However, the general condition and quality of water resources in the Republic of Kazakhstan is significantly deteriorating and their intense pollution can have a devastating effect on the environment. If we take into account the fact that Kazakhstan has a low supply of fresh water resources, this is an additional reason for having serious concern.

More than 1.5 billion tons of waste was accumulated only in the ash dumps of Ekibastuz Power Plant. Under threat of a breakthrough into the Irtysh River is the ash storage of the Sogrinsk Power Plant. Over 350 waste landfills were created by the corporations of Mittal Steel Temirtau and Kazakhmys in the Karaganda region. Long-term waste from the Balkhash Mining and Metallurgical Enterprise has led to pollution of the coast and the waters of Lake Balkhash itself.

In addition to the above negative factors, there are environmental disaster zones in the Aral and Semey regions, as well as environmental threats associated with the operation of military test sites and the Baikonur complex.

Eco-legislation: unsustainable progress

The current Environmental Code, adopted in 2007, introduced significant changes to environmental regulation. With its adoption, the formal division of the environmental branches (the Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan; partially the Law “On Highly Protected Natural Territories”) and the natural resource legislation (Land Code; Water Code; Code “On Subsoil and Subsoil Use”; Forest Code; Law “On Protection, reproduction and use of wildlife”) was drawn.

For the first time, environmental requirements were brought to the legislative level and the competencies of local authorities in the field of environmental protection were formalized, the procedure for conducting state control was drawn up, and comprehensive environmental permits were introduced.

The main tasks of the 2007 Environmental Code were to generalize and systematize environmental issues at the legislative level. It was necessary to raise the status of environmental requirements and standards to the level of a legislative act of direct action, as well as introduce international standards into the practice of environmental protection.

However, the Environmental Code has not become an effective tool for improving the ecology and sustainable development of the country. Since its adoption, 64 amendments have been made to it, and a significant part of them have been in the last three years. This demonstrates the need for further improvement of environmental legislation by updating and systematizing it in order to create all the necessary conditions for achieving Kazakhstan’s strategic goals.

It should be noted that so far the state policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of environmental protection has been focused on protecting the environment. Thus, the current approach gives priority to tougher penalties for environmental violations, and the promotion of sustainable development remains in a declarative form.

Within the framework of the proposed draft of the new Environmental Code, the promotion of the country’s sustainable development, including in the field of environmental protection, and the transition to a green economy, has been identified as the main priority of environmental legislation.

New Code: Course on Sustainable Development of the Country and Society

The draft of new Environmental Code proposes to revise terminology in the field of environmental protection. In particular, the term of “nature user” used today is proposed to be replaced by “polluter”, “operator” or “person who has an impact on the environment”, which more accurately defines an individual or legal entity that negatively affects the environment. The use of the term “nature user” in the Environmental Code is not entirely appropriate, since the use of natural resources is regulated by other laws (“land user” in the Land Code, “water user” in the Water Code, “subsoil user” in the Code “On Subsoil and Subsoil Use”, etc.).

It is proposed to consolidate the definitions of “green” goods, works and services, as well as the criteria presented to them. Norms will be laid aimed at stimulating an increase in the share of “green”, “green” public and quasi-public procurement (green public procurement).

Based on the principle of the “circular economy”, it will be provided that substances and objects in circulation (including when stored in an environmentally sound manner) should not be recognized as waste, and payment should only be made for “pollution” that gets into the air water or soil. One of the main innovations is environmental standards will be brought into line with the principle of “polluter pays”

Such an approach implies a proportional distribution of the economic burden between the entire chain of pollutants to maintain an acceptable state of the environment, primarily the costs of “precautions and prevention” of pollution. All funds received from environmental payments, damages to the environment, as well as fines for environmental violations should be targeted and used exclusively to finance environmental initiatives and projects.

According to the draft of new Environmental Code, an integrated pollution prevention and control system will be introduced

Cleanliness requires incentives

The draft of the new code proposes measures to stimulate investment in “green” technologies, as well as the purchase of “green” goods, works and services. The study and implementation of integrated environmental permitting systems are proposed, as well as the use of economic incentive methods for people investing in the implementation of the best available technologies (BAT), the use of green technologies, restoration, conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, including the possibility of providing incentives such as

- state co-financing;

- subsidies;

-loan financing;

- deduction of amounts spent on environmental protection (including those directed as sponsorship in support of environmental institutions, foundations and public organizations working in the field of ecology, biodiversity conservation);

- zero CIT rate for organizations implementing green projects developing ecotourism (hotels, tourist centers), subject to the introduction of additional environmental criteria (environmental certification).

Thus, despite the progress made in improving the environmental policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, there are objective reasons for adopting a new Environmental Code, which will shift emphasis to new environmental principles and introduce new measures aimed at developing mechanisms for improving the efficiency of environmental management in the country.

At the inauguration, President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev emphasized that the country needed a unified environmental policy, and announced the need to adopt a new Environmental Code.

During the first executive meeting of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan, created in June 2019, the head of the ministry Magzum Mirzagaliyev said that the development of a draft of the new Environmental Code is one of the priority tasks assigned to him by the President.

Active work of the ministry and repeated public statements about introducing the draft Code to the Parliament at the end of this year suggests that Kazakhstan will enter 2020 with a new Environmental Code, which will set new emphasis and rules for the interaction of production entities with the state.