The Town of the XXI Century
Series of reports on ecological situation in Central Asia
Kazakhstan: dimensions of sustainable development
For a long time developed countries have been thinking of the days to come, and,
specifically, about their distant future. They strengthen economic aspects of
their statehood and accumulate resources, try to identify moral and ethical
values which will define social behavior of the future, ensure legal protection
of their positions in the international community through lobbying for certain
internationally recognized norms and rights. In other words, developed nations
are getting ready to live in the new civilization and to preserve their
supremacy in the framework of the new international order.
In developing countries, including Kazakhstan, the situation is vastly different.
Unfortunately, trying to picture our future we do not look too far. Behaviors
typical for our elite and mentality of the common people testify to this
historical shortsightedness. To us the notion of tomorrow is limited by the very
near future covering current generation’s life span and sometimes extending into
the lives of our children and grandchildren. What shall we leave as the legacy
for posterity? What foundation shall we build to secure a sound position in the
new civilization? Only a handful of people today are concerned with these issues.
The vast majority prefers to live today’s lives.
For example, we do not have the means to manage our vast natural resources
effectively and have to invite foreign investors allowing them too manage our
riches. Of course, investors willingly embrace this opportunity because working
on our market and earning profits they preserve resources of their home
countries for future generations. They also have an opportunity to stockpile
resources readily available today foreseeing possible deficits of the future.
At the same time, trying to secure commanding heights in tomorrow’s world order
developed countries operate under the pretence of democratic principles and
overall state of complete harmony. This is the route developed countries take to
maximize their efforts in preparing for the inevitable ecological crisis. To the
contrary, developing countries currently have to battle systemic crisis
entailing demographic, social and cultural problems, while ecological issues
tend to be removed far from the top of the priority lists.
Unfortunately, in this race for the bright future a lot of countries will be
disqualified in mid-race as the handcuffs of economic, political and moral
challenges will limit their ability to stay the course and catch up with the
leaders. These countries have no way of following UN events and initiatives.
They have nothing to do with the fate of humanity and global ecological issues.
Scientists predict that developing nations will follow the fate of Arctic
peoples counting their last decades and generations. Experts believe that
relations between the old and new civilizations will develop painfully and, more
exactly, will lead to conflicts. Even now the world is torn apart by dozens of
conflicts. Developed countries protect their economic and religious interests,
developing countries fight for their own ones.
The newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, also, face a difficult
situation. Unfortunately, in the former Soviet Union general population never
pursued global knowledge while country leaders had no notion of geopolitical
thinking. Everyone took care of today’s interests. Consequently, political
situation has been and still is characterized by a high degree of instability.
Experts believe that Kazakhstan had a chance to build a rapidly developing
economic system. Moreover, the country could choose from one of the two
historically proven alternative ways of development. The first option was to
strive for a European-style civil society. The second one – to create an
Asian-style corporate state, building on Japanese and South Korean experiences.
However, Kazakhstan embarked on a certain third route. Consequently, nowadays
some people live in the atmosphere of an Asian corporate state, while the vast
majority supposedly works to build a democratic nation. The situation negatively
impacts the country’s economy and demography, while deteriorating public
education system can forever bar Kazakhstan from access to lucrative world
To ensure implementation of key sustainable development principles the UN
recommends all government and non-government organizations to facilitate
on-going educational programs for children and adults. The reasoning behind
on-going education is quite simple: every six years knowledge acquired at a
higher educational institution becomes obsolete. Consequently, developed nations
currently compete in sciences, education, technologies. In Kazakhstan budget
expenditures for education constantly fall year-on-year and are currently less
than 3% GDP. Funding for scientific research is in an even worse shape.
Within last several years international researchers coined out a new term –
functional illiteracy of the population. What does that mean? Functional
illiteracy describes a situation in which acquired knowledge can not be applied.
Acquired knowledge is obsolete, does not account for economic realities of the
region or is useless because of various combinations of circumstances. In
Kazakhstan functional illiteracy is an extremely acute issue. Supposedly,
children go to school. Supposedly, all high schools have been “computerized”.
Supposedly, in relative terms we have more higher educational institutions and
more university graduates than even the most advanced industrialized nations,
however, for some reason or another years of studies do not allow young people
to develop into qualified professionals.
Researchers estimate that to resolve current issues Kazakhstan has approximately
10 years, two decades as the maximum. That is the amount of time allocated to
ensure reasonable management of our resources based on outdated extraction and
processing technologies. However, within the next decade or two we have to
ensure profound upgrade of our production technologies and increase intellectual
level of the population.
At the same time experts admit that even now Kazakhstan attempts to catch up
with the most advanced countries in addressing key issues which will become even
more urgent as time goes by. Primarily, the urgency is related to the idea of
sustainable development with its core postulate of the need to search for
universal harmony inside the international community and in relations between
human beings and the environment.
Currently only one fifth of the humanity lives in what can be defined as “humane
conditions”. In other words, these people can maintain adequate diets, live in
comfortable conditions and afford various extras offered by the civilization.
Understandably, the vast majority of these people live in developed countries.
However, these standards of living are extremely harmful for the environment
because they have negative impacts on the ecology and require enormous amounts
of energy. If all human beings on the planet were able to maintain similar
standards of living the planet would not sustain the pressure on its ecological
system. Even now commercial fishing capacity greatly exceeds acceptable levels,
excessive cattle herds destroy pastures, tropical forests are at the brink of
extinction. Within last 160 years concentration of carbon dioxide has greatly
increased in the planet’s atmosphere as a result of emissions from millions of
automobiles and industrial enterprises. Ozone layer has been depleted and for
the last 20 years scientists have been sending out alerts regarding global
warming caused by greenhouse gases emissions.
If in the XXI century all countries try to achieve “western standards of living”
and our planet’s population continues to grow at today’s rate, the consequences
will be quite grim. The UN experts estimate that by 2050 the planet’s population
will reach 10 billion, while the number of motor vehicles will jump to 5 billion
as compared to today’s 500 million. However, even now more than 1 billion people
worldwide have to inhale harmful air while 3 million people die annually as a
direct consequence of atmospheric pollution. The same estimates indicate that by
2050 we shall consume 360 million barrels of oil – five times more than
contemporary annual consumption of 67 million barrels. Based on today’s bread
consumption requirements it will take 9 billion tones of grain to feed 10
billion people. This is four times more than contemporary potential crop yields.
It is hard to imagine cumulative impacts of all these changes on the ecological
system. Most likely, it will be impossible to breathe, water will be polluted
beyond all imaginable limits and the humanity will have to battle continuous
severe water deficits. However, chances are that humanity will not be able to
survive at all.
Consequently, economic systems and our demands can not grow infinitely.
Economies should be fully guided by ecology and sustainable development
principles. In practical terms, commercial fishing should not impact
regeneration of fish populations. Lumber production should not prevent
regeneration of forests. Carbon-based substances emissions should not exceed the
nature’s ability o neutralize emissions. There are multitudes of similar
For the first time in history sustainable development issues were addressed 30
years ago. At that time representatives of the vast majority of the planet’s
governments gathered in Stockholm to attend the first UN environmental
conference. As a result of the conference, national governments started to
create environmental protection ministries and the “green” movement was born.
Stockholm Conference allowed to include environmental protection into the list
of the world’s most urgent issues.
Later on 1992 Rio-de-Janeiro Conference resulted in organization of the Earth
Summit which served as the forum for discussion of sustainable development
issues and development of the action plans. That is when people started to hope
that environmental issues will take an important place alongside economic and
social issues. At the Earth Summit the international community adopted The XXI
Century Agenda – the blueprint for long-term sustainable development of the
It seemed that the world finally came to the realization that positive results
would require unified global efforts. It was also recognized that wealthy
countries would not be able to resolve global issues, such as climate change,
unless poor countries stopped getting poorer. Hence, one of the primary
objectives defined at the Summit – it is necessary to help the poor ones.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that 800 million people
suffer from starvation, more than one billion people do not have access to clean
drinking water, 1.6 billion are illiterate and 2 billion do not have access to
electricity. Poverty leads to high child mortality rates, low life expectancy
and rapid spread of many infectious diseases.
There is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. 225 people on the planet
have amassed a cumulative fortune of one trillion USD, which can be sufficient
to ensure normal lives for half of the world’s poor. The world’s three most
wealthy people have a cumulative fortune equal to the capital of the world’s 48
poorest nations. If wealthy countries continue to amass riches poor nations will
never be able to emerge from poverty. Hence, a decision was made that wealthy
nations would give 0.7% of their GDP to the poorest countries. However, the
decision was never implemented. No one was eager to help the poor. Moreover,
within last several years amounts of assistance from developed nations have been
Some observers hoped that 2002 Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg
would devote special attention to poverty-related issues and would come up with
effective counter actions. Some very interesting figures were announced at the
Summit and later published by Forbes magazine. For example, 20% of the world’s
poorest people consume only 1% of civilization’s benefits while 90 of the
benefits get distributed to 20% of the people living in wealthy nations. In
other words, one fifth of the planet’s population lives very well while the rest
of the people merely survive.
What are some of the potential consequences of the current situation? Mr.
Nursultan Nazarbaev, President of Kazakhstan addressed the issue at the Summit
saying: "If achievements and benefits of globalization continue to be
distributed among a small group of highly developed nations, then it will
inevitably lead to confrontation, conflicts and social cataclysms of much
greater severity than the ones experienced by our civilization within the last
and preceding centuries".