On 24 and 25 February Astana hosted the second Meeting of International Participants of “Future Energy” EXPO which will take place in the capital city of the Central Asian republic from 10 June to 10 September 2017.
The conference gathered around 300 delegates from over 100 countries and representatives of international organization and business. The meeting was the occasion to sign many agreements for participation to EXPO and to discuss financial, technical and logistic issues, in order to create an exchange of information between the organizers and the participants. Now, more than 70 countries and 40 organizations officially confirmed their adhesion to the 2017 Exhibition.
Towards EXPO: the concept behind it
“Future Energy” wants to put on the international political agenda environmental and energy issues. The main theme will be developed through the analysis of three challenges related to energy. The first is the environmental challenge, related to the policies of protection and to the reduction of CO2 emissions. The second one takes into consideration economic implications about energy, especially its rational and efficient use. The third challenge is the social aspect related to energy, which is thought as the broadening of the right of access to the resources, in order to extend the possibilities of development and modernization.
A recurring concept behind EXPO 2017 is the building of a platform of debate and interaction among countries and the sharing of different experiences. A formative purpose, which will be one of the main keys of the Exhibition, beyond recreational and architectural aspects.
Answering to our question on what kind of message Astana sends to the world, Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales told IsAG: «Among top priorities there are the prevention of climate change, the protection of environment and a new definition of sustainability. When Kazakhstan – which is one of the most important oil&gas producers – chooses this theme, at the same time takes world leadership in the field of new sources of energy, despite its economy depends by hydrocarbons. This is a strong message».
In response to our question on the relation between the idea of “Future Energy” and the past and present of Kazakhstan on energy themes, the EXPO Commissioner Rapil Zhoshybayev reminded the whole work done by his country in environmental and energy issues. He also spoke about the commitment for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the recent establishment of the Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in 2015. Zhoshybayev explained: «All these initiatives are contributing to the realization of a peaceful climate for what concerns the theme of energy and in Astana EXPO 2017 new technological opportunities will be shown to the entire world».
Initiatives, legacy and aspirations
Given standard dispositions of the International Bureau of the Exhibition – the area of EXPO will cover 25 hectares, while entire site will cover much more, around 173.4 hectars. Beyond exhibition buildings, the area will have spaces for housing and the necessary infrastructures.
At the centre of the exhibition area there will be the Kazakh pavillion, the “Museum of the Future”, an 80 meters sphere and the symbol of the event. The surrounding area will be completed by international participants and thematic pavillions. One of these structures will be dedicated to the exhibition of “best practices” in the field of energy and environmental sustainability, selected by a special international commission. Moreover, organizers included other four thematic pavillions, called “World of Energy”, “Energy for Life”, “Energy for All” and “My Future Energy”. Their aim is to develop in depth different fields, ranging from efficient use of energy, innovations in transport and urban planning to “social” and economic aspects related to this issue.
In the wake of what happened in the most successful examples of great events, Astana is already elaborating a strategy for the “legacy”, in order to maintain and develop the material and immaterial achievements of EXPO.
A first proposal is the institution of the Astana International Financial Center, which should open since January 1 2018 in some of the Exhibition buildings. The aim is to attract investment flows from abroad thanks to the provision of a special tax and judicial regime for operators. The immaterial legacy of EXPO, instead, is represented by the idea of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of a Center for the development of “green technologies” and support for investment projects under the aegis of United Nations.
In this way, Kazakhstan wants to make of Astana one of the main political and financial Central Asian cities, and raise the attractiveness of the capital even in the tourist sector.
Astana 2017 from a geopolitical perspective
Speaking at the end of the Meeting, Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales said that EXPO 2017 is on a «good truck» and that the importance of this Exhibition is given by the fact that this edition, compared to that of Milan, takes a «strong geopolitical value». This statement can be taken into account because of various reasons.
First of all, it must be considered the high relevance of the main theme. In this particular phase of the global economy, energy assume a great role in shaping the economies of developed countries and energy producers ones. Equally important is the attention to new sources of energy and environmental protection.
A second aspect derives not only by the theme but from the host country itself: it’s the first time for a Central Asia state and CIS member. The “Kazakh option” marks also the growing relevance of a region that wants to be perceived as a bridge between Europe and Asia.
The choice of an energy-rich country, more than a contradiction, can mean the recognition of the necessary evolvement towards a new kind of economic development. Kazakhstan is committed to the implementation of Green Bridge and Atom Projects initiatives at international level and the promotion of renewable resources at home, even if EXPO must not be considered as a definitive result but rather a strengthening of these policies.
With this candidacy, Kazakhstan obtained another political and diplomatic victory. EXPO probably is the most significant international event hosted in this country since its independence. Moreover, another political aspect is that Kazakhstan has been able to present itself as a dynamic and reliable player on the international scene, despite clear difficulties and critical aspects are still present and could represent a potential negative factor for the future development and stability of the country.
ILO Reports Important Progress on Child Labour and Forced Labour in Uzbek Cotton Fields
A new International Labour Organization report to the World Bank finds that the systematic use of child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest has come to an end, and that concrete measures to stop the use of forced labour have been taken.
The report Third-party monitoring of measures against child labour and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan is based on more than 3,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with a representative sample of the country’s 2.6 million cotton pickers. It shows that the country is making significant reforms on fundamental labour rights in the cotton fields.
“The 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue. This has encompassed all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the future. However, there is still a lag between the sheer amount of new decrees and reforms being issued by the central government and the capacity to absorb and implement these changes at provincial and district levels,” says Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch.
The ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest for child labour since 2013. In 2015, it began monitoring the harvest for forced labour and child labour as part of an agreement with the World Bank.
Interviews carried out by the monitors took place in all provinces of the country and included cotton pickers and other groups which are directly or indirectly involved in the harvest such as local authorities, education and medical personnel. In addition, a telephone poll of 1,000 randomly selected persons was conducted. Before the harvest, the ILO experts organized training for some 6,300 people directly involved with the recruitment of cotton pickers.
The results confirm that the large majority of the 2.6 million cotton pickers engaged voluntarily in the annual harvest in 2017 and that there is a high level of awareness in the country about the unacceptability of both child and forced labour. The report confirms earlier findings that the systematic use of child labour in the cotton harvest has ended though continued vigilance is required to ensure that children are in school.
Instructions have been given by the Uzbek national authorities to local administrations to ensure that all recruitment of cotton pickers is on a voluntary basis. In September 2017, an order was given withdrawing certain risk groups (students, education and medical personnel) from the harvest at its early stage.
Moreover, cotton pickers’ wages have been increased in line with recommendations by the ILO and the World Bank. The ILO recommends that the government continues to increase wages and also addresses working conditions more broadly to further attract voluntary pickers.
Last September, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he pledged to end forced labour in his country and underscored his government’s engagement with the ILO. In November 2017, at the Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour in Argentina, Uzbekistan also pledged to engage with independent civil society groups on the issue.
The ILO Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) project in Uzbekistan will now focus on the remaining challenges, particularly the need for further awareness raising and capacity building, which varies between provinces and districts. It will ensure that all those involved in recruitment will have the information and tools needed to ensure that cotton pickers are engaged in conformity with international labour standards.
The monitoring and results from a pilot project in the area of South Karkalpakstan also show that cotton picking economically empowers women in rural areas. The cotton harvest provides many women with a unique opportunity to earn an extra cash income which they control and can use to improve the situation of their families.
The ILO TPM Project is funded by a multi-donor trust fund with major contributions by the European Union, United States and Switzerland.
Kazakhstan Launches Online Platform for Monitoring and Reporting Greenhouse Gases
An online platform for monitoring, reporting and verifying emission sources and greenhouse gases (GHG) was officially launched today by the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the World Bank.
The platform is an essential element of the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan, which was launched in 2013 as the country’s main instrument to regulate domestic CO2 emissions and to drive the development of low-carbon technologies. Today, the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan covers all major companies in the energy, oil and gas sectors, mining, metallurgical, chemical and processing industries.
Since 2014, the World Bank Trust Fund Partnership for Market Readiness has provided technical assistance to Kazakhstan in supporting the implementation of the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan and related climate change mitigation policies.
“Kazakhstan’s emissions trading system is the first of its kind in the Central Asia region,” said Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. “With support from the Partnership for Market Readiness, the country has made a great effort to develop policy options for mid- and long-term emissions pathways and to develop an action plan on GHG emissions reductions by 2030. The World Bank will continue to support the Government during the crucial stages of policy implementation.”
The platform enables Kazakhstan’s major emitters to transmit and record data on GHGs emissions, as well as trade online. The National Allocation Plan, adopted in January 2018, sets an emission cap for 129 companies for the period 2018-2020. Per the national allocation plan, quotas have been allocated until 2020.
“The electronic platform undoubtedly proves the evolution of the Kazakhstan emission control system, which will allow the monitoring, reporting and verification system to be upgraded to a much higher level,” said Sergei Tsoy, Deputy General Director of JSC Zhasyl Damu.
GHG data is confirmed by accredited bodies for verification and validation and transferred to the Cadastre using an electronic digital signature. To date, there are seven verification companies accredited in Kazakhstan, with five more in the process of accreditation.
The platform was developed by JSC Zhasyl Damu with the support of France’s Technical Center on Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases. The system is administered by JSC Zhasyl-Damu, while the beneficiaries are the Climate Change Department and the Committee for Environmental Regulation and Control of the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is one of the largest emitters of GHG in Europe and Central Asia with total annual national emissions of 300.9 MtCO2e in 2015. The energy sector accounts for 82% of total GHG emissions, followed by agriculture (9.6%) and industrial processes (6.4%). More than 80% of produced electricity in Kazakhstan is coal-fired, followed by natural gas (7%) and hydro power (8%).
Kazakhstan proposed as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) an economy-wide reduction of GHG emissions of 15% from 1990 emissions levels by 2030. Kazakhstan ratified the Paris Agreement in November 2016 and committed itself to the fulfilment of the proposed target as its first INDC. The objective will contribute to sustainable economic development as well as to the achievement of the long-term global goal of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.
Religious buildings in Kazakhstan to be labeled 16+
New restrictions on religious activities are emerging in Kazakhstan. Will they help to fight extremism?
According to the Government bill introducing amendments to the laws on religious activities and associations, adolescents should be forbidden from attending mosques, churches and synagogues if they are not accompanied by one of the parents and don’t have written consent of another parent.
Schools and the media are going to be forbidden from talking about the belief systems of various religions as well.
By implementing these and other measures, Astana intends to combat religious extremism. However, the crackdown on religion has already set the country four years back: in 2017 the Republic of Kazakhstan returned on the list of countries where the religious situation arouses concern of the US State Department Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kazakhstan last appeared on the list along with Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Laos in 2013.
Is the proposed bill really going to help to contain the spread of radical Islam, and to what extent does it conform with international human rights standards?
The Concept of State Policy towards Religion, adopted in 2017, shows that the authorities strive to expel religion from public space altogether and promote an ideology of “secularism”. Their thinking is understandable: with no contact between members of differentreligions, there will be no inter-religious conflicts.
However, according to the European experience, prohibitive policy does not bring the expected results. In a multicultural society, the lack of information about the beliefs of other religions only increases tensions. Silencing the matter of religion and obstructing religious education reduces the ability to critically evaluate the extremist ideologies,while increasing the opportunityto spread false information aimed to promote inter-religious discord.
In addition, various summer camps, excursion and pilgrimage activities organized by religious communities are going to be banned if the bill is adopted. It includes those traditional religious confessions that the Government routinely thanks for promoting the inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development and the maintenance of stability, peace and prosperity in the society. A large number of children and teenagers will be deprived of their usual social circles and leisure activities.
As a result of such unconstitutional state interference and bureaucratic obstacles, children and teenagers will be denied the right to practice the religion of their family even when outside educational, medical and other state institutions. Not to mention that parents will be entitledby law to restrict the right of their children under the age of 16 to choose their faith.
Moreover, according to the proposed legislation, if a minor is found in a prayer room“illegally”, the responsibility will fall on the religious organization in question. Consequently, the clergy will need to alienate and discourage the younger generations from attending their own churches, so as not to get fined and fall within the scope of the restrictions on the religious activities!
At the same time, actual extremist organizations will go underground and get more freedom than their peaceful competitors. Obviously, the unruly youth will turn not to those imams, priests or rabbis unable to go beyond the restrictive framework of formal prohibitions. They will go to the “real” preachers who offer communion, new religious experience, something to devote yourself to, a sense of self-worth (even if as suicide bombers).
It is in the interests of all religious leaders, and indeed the whole world, to prevent such a terrible scenario from happening and to return Kazakhstan on the path of civilizational dialogue and inter-confessional cooperation. Otherwise, any participation in the VI Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the Astana Palace of Peace and Reconciliation can be seen as not only dishonorable and hypocritical, but also unsafe.
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