PONARS Policy Memo on renewables in Kazakhstan and Russia

A new PONARS Policy Memo “Renewables in Kazakhstan and Russia: Promoting “Future Energy” or Entrenching Hydrocarbon Dependency?” written by professors Natalie Koch and Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen was released this August.

Energy and natural resource use has always been a key issue of geopolitics, but as more countries adopt “post-oil” transition policies, environmental sustainability has itself become an important geopolitical issue that is increasingly defining political relations among and within states. Leaders in both Kazakhstan and Russia—two of Eurasia’s leading hydrocarbon producers—have been investing in new alternative energy infrastructures, “green economy” development, and certain forms of environmental sustainability. Among these were high-profile initiatives: Kazakhstan recently hosted EXPO-2017 with the theme of “Future Energy” and Russia had “The Year of the Environment 2017.”

Iconic or exceptional as many sustainability initiatives may be, these projects shed light on the region’s changing energy geographies. They also raise important questions about how and why local leaders have been advancing these policies when both Kazakhstan and Russia’s political economies are still so tied to traditional energy extraction. Do new alternative energy projects mark a sea change of promoting “future energy” transitions in Eurasia? Alternatively, do these projects risk further entrenching hydrocarbon dependency in both countries? Whose interests are at stake in such transitions? And how might recent renewable energy initiatives support or challenge prevailing political configurations in Kazakhstan and Russia? While some changes are underway, infrastructure challenges and networks of power-players and rent-seekers, as well as a shallow civic commitment to environmental protection, make it difficult to create new energy capacities based on renewables, despite governmental advocacy of it.

Read the full text on PONARS Eurasia website.