Opinion & Commentary, Solar

Development through renewable energy: How Uzbekistan is setting the standard

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

The recently announced partnership between Helios Energy and the Ministry of Innovative Development Uzbekistan, underlines the country’s ambitious aims to generate a quarter of all electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The country’s transformation, led by president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, serves as an example for how Lower Middle Income Countries (LMICs) can not only be part of the push to renewables, but can spearhead it.

The double-landlocked country contains five natural ecosystems; deserts, semi-deserts, rivers, wetlands and mountains, although deserts make up 70% of the territory. Uzbekistan is perhaps best known for its ancient history. Cities including Samarkand and Bukhara are over 2,500 years old, and formed trading posts on the great silk road connecting China to the Middle East and Rome.

In recent years Uzbekistan has suffered disproportionately due to climate change, with the average temperature growth twice as high as the global average warming rates. The Aral sea, one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water, is on the brink of total disappearance in the timespan of one generation. Further deficiencies of water resources, growth in desertification, increased frequency of droughts and other extreme weather events make Uzbekistan one of the countries that is most vulnerable to climate change.

This predicament perhaps catalyzed Uzbekistan’s energy sector modernization, and its “Program of measures for transition to low carbon development.” This transformation is taking place at a staggering rate. At the end of last year, Uzbekistan only had 4 MW of installed solar PV capacity. The recent Helios Energy partnership in the Namangan region will result in 40 MW of installed capacity before the end of 2020, with plans already underway to get to more than 4 GW of installed solar PV capacity before 2031.

But how does a country with a GNI per capita of $2,020 and a population of 32 million manage to reduce its CO2 emissions whilst experiencing a GDP growth of above 6%? The answer is a simple one. Where other countries have put purely focused on economic development, often at the expense of environmental commitments, Uzbekistan has ensured that development takes place in an environmentally responsible manner.

The country gained independence 28 years ago, and since then has been implementing a strategy for large-scale socio-economic and socio-political transformations aimed at achieving peace, prosperity and well-being. Preserving the country’s ecological systems was a fundamental part of this. For example, the modernization of industry between 1990 and 2010 led to 50% reductions of CO2 per unit of GDP, whilst creating jobs and improving efficiency within industry.

Despite the country being rich in natural resources, a decision was made soon after independence to use their resources rationally and conserve a clean environment for future generations. Many suggest the days of being part of a totalitarian regime that had little environmental regard have left the people of modern-day Uzbekistan highly protective and proud of their natural environment.

This is in stark contrast to the ‘Coal curtain’ that much of Eastern Europe resides behind, preventing a rapid transition to renewable energy. Unlike many Eastern European ex-Soviet countries, Central Asia and Uzbekistan in particular have started on a march on the path to a sustainability. The resulting clean and charming environment from progressive government policy has not gone unnoticed abroad, with tourism in 2018 doubling when compared to 2017.

These recent achievements have been in the making for decades. For example in 2008, the government registered the Ecological movement of Uzbekistan, with “healthy environment healthy human” as its motto, and providing ‘State environmental control over compliance with legislation in the field of protection and use of land, mineral resources, waters, forests, protected natural areas, flora and fauna, protection of atmospheric air.’ This further strengthened the commitment to ensuring development that takes place will not be at the expense of their environment.

This combination of pride in protecting the nation’s ecology, judicious governmental oversight of land use, and ambitious renewable targets have propelled the country on a path of sustainable development, and serves as an example to LMICs the world over.