Global warming is a problem that impacts many places around the world, including Central Asia. The region is in the midst of a climate crisis unlike any in recorded history, which is having a profound impact on the local population, economy, and ecosystems. Rising average annual temperatures, extended drought, melting glaciers, extreme heat waves, diminished snow cover, and more frequent natural disasters are all results of climate change in the region in recent years.
Over the past century, average temperatures in Central Asia have risen by 1-2 degrees Celsius, a significant increase. Drought conditions have worsened as a result, threatening agricultural output and, ultimately, food supply. Scientists have observed an eastward expansion of deserts in the region since the late 1980s, with some areas in northern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in southern Kazakhstan, and around the Junggar Basin in northwestern China moving as far north as 100 kilometres. According to the most recent report from the World Bank, climate change may cause internal migration among 216 million people worldwide by the year 2050.
There are a number of reasons why Central Asia is lagging behind other regions in terms of attention paid to the climate crisis. It is more difficult for the general public to learn about the effects of climate change in Central Asia because the region is less frequently in the headlines and receives less media coverage. Furthermore, countries in the region face numerous challenges, including poverty, political instability, and economic development, which may be prioritised over addressing the threats posed by climate change. There are also few financial and institutional resources available for investment in climate change adaptation and mitigation in Central Asian states. This can make it harder for them to attract the attention and support of the international community.
There is a lack of understanding of the impacts of climate change and the necessity of action to mitigate and adapt to these impacts among the general public, the research community, and decision-makers in the region, despite the growing threat posed by climate change. A recent study found that only 33 articles (0.24 percent) out of 13,488 in eight major journals covering Central Asia addressed climate change or a related topic.
Central Asia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as water scarcity, food insecurity, and increased frequency of natural disasters, and so it presents significant social, political, and geopolitical challenges despite being called a “accelerant” for global cooperation. Existing political tensions, especially over water resources, will be exacerbated by the climate crisis as countries compete for limited supplies. It is also increasing the potential for war and international migration, all of which undermine already-fragile states.
Because of the effects of global warming, Central Asia is experiencing a severe water shortage crisis. Snow and glacier melt from the Himalayas and the Pamirs provide the majority of the region’s water, but as temperatures rise, these ice formations melt at an accelerated rate, resulting in lower water levels in rivers and lakes. Meanwhile, rising temperatures are increasing evaporation, cutting into the supply of surface water. As a result of these shifts, the agricultural sector in the region is under increasing amounts of stress, and the potential for conflict over water resources has increased.
One of the most pressing issues related to climate change in Central Asia is the resulting increase in food insecurity. Water scarcity, increased frequency of natural disasters like droughts and floods, and soil degradation due to increased salinity and desertification are all contributing factors in the region’s falling crop yields. Due to these factors, farmers are finding it harder to produce enough food to meet regional demand, which in turn has caused food shortages and price spikes.
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are two examples of recent food insecurity in Central Asia, where export bans were enacted after abnormal winter temperatures, a lack of preparation, and soil degradation caused widespread food shortages. The countries rely heavily on agriculture, so the effects of food insecurity are having a devastating effect on millions of people’s livelihoods and raising the prospect of social and political unrest. The severe Central Asian winter of 2023 may be indicative of what a typical Central Asian winter in 2043 will be like, according to conservative global climate projections.
There has been an increase in the frequency of natural disasters in Central Asia as a result of climate change, which has led to the destruction of critical infrastructure, the suspension of economic activities, and the loss of income for millions of people. Historically high rates of flooding, drought, and landslides have been occurring every year in the region. Kyrgyzstan is one country in Central Asia that has been hit by a string of floods and landslides in recent years, illustrating the trend of increased frequency of natural disasters in the region. Severe flooding in 2019 has disrupted economic activities and damaged infrastructure across the country. Heavy rains that year also triggered a series of landslides, which destroyed homes and businesses and forced many people to relocate.
Central Asians are generally sceptical about climate change, but this is an issue that cannot be ignored. As a first step, Central Asian governments should take measures to lessen the impact of climate change. To begin mitigating the effects of climate change, governments must first create and implement comprehensive adaptation plans to assist citizens and vital economic sectors like agriculture, energy, and water management.
Second, governments should put money towards strengthening critical infrastructure like dams, levees, and irrigation systems so that it can better withstand the effects of climate change and reduce the likelihood of damage from extreme weather events.
Third, governments can encourage farmers to implement environmentally friendly farming methods that are more resilient to climate change, thereby boosting crop yields and enhancing food security.
Fourth, local governments should put an emphasis on developing integrated water management plans that encourage sustainable water use and lessen the likelihood of water scarcity and conflict over shared water resources. Reducing disaster risk, investing in renewable energy, and strengthening existing infrastructure are all important next steps.
The governments of Central Asia must take several measures to reduce the long-term impacts of climate change. Going carbon-free is the first order of business. Transitioning away from fossil fuels necessitates government support in Central Asia, and this support must be directed towards renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower. As a result, global warming can be slowed and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.
Secondly, legislation can be passed to increase efficiency standards for construction, transportation, and manufacturing, all of which use a lot of energy. This will aid in lowering energy consumption and consequently, carbon dioxide emissions.
Third, governments will have to take steps to protect and restore ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and grasslands, which are essential for maintaining a stable climate and a diverse ecosystem. Taking such measures would help Central Asian governments prepare for the effects of climate change and boost the region’s long-term sustainability and resilience.
Central Asia’s response to climate change will be greatly aided by regional cooperation. The region’s countries can better face the challenges of a changing climate if they pool their resources, knowledge, and experience. In spite of this, it is important to maintain a sober perspective on the challenges to regional cooperation, such as those brought on by climate change in Central Asia.
Political and economic interests (such as disputes over water and energy resources), new conflicts (like Russia’s aggression against Ukraine), and competition for regional influence may all complicate efforts to work together on a regional level. It can be difficult for countries to cooperate in order to effectively address the challenges posed by climate change when they have competing interests. In addition, low levels of trust between nations in the area can hamper regional cooperation efforts. Regional cooperation to address the challenges posed by climate change requires a high level of trust between countries.
Financial constraints make it difficult for countries in the region to invest in the measures necessary to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. For countries to tackle climate change head-on, they’ll need to find ways to pool their resources and amass enough money.