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Global warming is causing temperatures to rise at a faster pace in Central Asia than in other parts of the world. Yet a report issued by a watchdog group shows that Central Asian states are compounding their environmental challenges by doubling down on the use of coal-fired power plants, a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel warming.

The annual report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), titled Boom and Bust Coal 2024: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, showed that coal's role in power generation has doubled in Central Asia over the past decade. Plans to add generating capacity of coal-fired plants in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan reached 8.1 gigawatts (GW) last year, up from 3.9 GW in 2013, according to GEM data. Coal currently accounts for 45 percent of electricity production in the region. Turkmenistan's power production relies on natural gas, and thus its production wasn't included as part of the GEM coal report.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are among only eight states globally that developed plans in 2023 to build new coal-fired plants. The report also notes that no Central Asian state has a plan to phase out coal-fired power production; most also don't have a blueprint to achieve carbon neutrality in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

"Central Asia plans to balloon its new coal power generation while most other regions are plateauing or decreasing proposals. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are trending in the wrong direction," the GEM report states. 

The report also makes the argument that the region's continuing embrace of coal-fired power production  may solve short-term problems but will ultimately add long-term stress to state budgets. "These future coal-fired power stations would pose stranded asset risks and unnecessary socioeconomic and environmental costs," it says.

Over 60 percent of the 16.8 GW electricity generated by burning coal in Central Asia was produced by outdated plants in 2023, the GEM report states. The efficient operating lifetime for a coal plant is generally accepted to be 40 years. Continued operation of plants beyond the 40-year timeframe poses "serious risks" for excessive pollution and breakdown, according to GEM. Risks are heightened for outdated combined plants that generate heat and electricity, given the greater chances of a breakdown during a winter cold snap.

"Betting on new coal capacity is a risky strategy for Central Asia. These countries should prioritize renewable energy, energy storage, smart grids, and transmission infrastructure," Flora Champenois, GEM's Coal Program Director, said in a written statement provided to Eurasianet.

Kazakhstan is the Central Asia leader in trying to go green, yet it is also the region's worst coal offender. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in early 2023 approved a strategy for Kazakhstan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 concerning greenhouse gas emissions.  In late 2023, Kazakhstan also joined the Global Methane Pledge. Methane emissions as part of fuel extraction is another source of global warming. The same year, however, Kazakhstan announced plans to add 4.6 GW of coal-fired power generating capacity, which the GEM report notes is the third-most proposed generating capacity added in 2023, behind China and India. 

The two largest, new projects are in Ekibastuz, a city in the northern Pavlodar Region not far from the Russian border: one involves the expansion of the Ekibastuz-2 power station; the other is the construction of a new facility, Ekibastuz-3. No existing coal plant in Kazakhstan has an officially confirmed retirement date.

The report asserts "Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are going down the same path as Kazakhstan, though at a smaller scale." Kyrgyzstan, for example, signed a deal with Russian firms to build a new coal plant in the Jalal-Abad Region capable of generating 0.7 GW per year. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has plans to add two units to the existing Angren power station. Concurrently, coal production is rising in Central Asia, underscored by plans by the Bogatyr Coal Mine in Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest coal source, to increase production in 2024 by 25 percent.

"For Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which have existing climate commitments, following through with the proposed coal proposals will make meeting these commitments more difficult and expensive," the report says. "The same would be true for the other Central Asian countries should they make coal phaseout or carbon neutrality goals in the future."

Overall, the GEM report showed that the G7 group of major industrial countries accounted for 15 percent (310 GW) of the coal-fired generating capacity in 2023, down from 23 percent (443 GW) in 2015. The report also cited China as world's worst abuser of coal. Global coal-fired power production grew by 48.4 GW, or 2 percent, in 2023, for an overall total of 2,130 GW. China was responsible for two-thirds of the additions.


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Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on… More