Corporate Sustainability and Natural Resources (SDG 7, 8, 9, 12)
The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and natural resources management has gained attention during the last few years in Kazakhstan. Significant efforts are taken mostly within the extractive and mining industries to develop corporate sustainability strategies in alignment with the SDGs. Indicatively, the largest industrial companies of Kazakhstan produce annual sustainability reports, where their performance towards the SDGs is measured using different benchmarking practices. The extractive and mining industries have adopted environmental, social, and governance indicators in their sustainability reports while they also focus on industrial safety, occupational safety and environmental protection by abiding to the improvement of labor conditions. Also, the state agencies support the improvement of CSR standards on national level. There are still however major challenges to be met on the improvement of corporate sustainability in the field of natural resources in Kazakhstan.
We aim to conduct research on CSR mainly of extractive and mining industries in Kazakhstan which is the most crucial economic sector with a major environmental impact. The research will focus on the direct dialogue of universities, oil and gas, mining, and power companies, and state agencies to assess the current and future CSR strategies in Kazakhstan and its significance for the attainment of SDG goals nationwide.
Environmental Conservation and Biodiversity (SDG 13, 14, 15)
Emblematic environmental disasters in Kazakhstan like the desiccation of the Aral Sea and the land contamination in the Semipalatinsk nuclear site have caused major socio-economic and health-related impacts which are still noticed today. In recent years, governmental and non-governmental organizations are trying to remedy environmental disasters and improve environmental conservation and biodiversity in Kazakhstan. Indicatively, along the period 2020-21, 177.5 million seedlings will be planted at the dried bottom of the Aral Sea as a part of extended phyto-forest reclamation works within the Kazakhstan Resilient Landscapes Restoration Project funded by the World Bank.
Governmental authorities, research institutes, and NGOs on are focusing on Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and more broadly environmentally sensitive regions. The area of biodiversity protection in Kazakhstan is still limited to only 2.8% of the total area of the country, which is a very low level in the international context. However, there are already plans to increase the protected areas and conduct research on the provision of ecosystem goods and service on a country level.
An SDSN NU would perform different initiatives like the organization of events and research activities in collaboration with key research institutes and NGOs to improve the policy agenda on environmental conservation in the country, improve conservation management plans, and encourage environmental conservation courses in tertiary education.
Sustainable Land Use Resources and Food Systems (SDG 1, 9, 13, 15)
Kazakhstan has a large endowment of agricultural land and an advantageous geographical location in the Eurasian corridor. In recent years, domestic and foreign investments in the agricultural sector and food provision systems have been growing. However, during the past decades, the land resources in Kazakhstan have been transformed due to more intensive use of minerals and hydrocarbon resources, agricultural intensification, and urbanization trends. There are also major challenges due to unequal water distribution, aged agricultural machinery, shortage of skilled labor, and limited commercial financial credit. Although Kazakhstan does not suffer from overpopulation, the growing domestic demand in the last decade, together with poor land use management approaches, has put considerable pressure on food supply systems. These pressures request technically effective solutions, institutional reforms, and better governance schemes.
The sustainable use of agricultural lands and sustainable food production were adopted in the Green Economy Strategy of Kazakhstan for the year 2030. There are major efforts by national research institutes and universities to revamp farming practices and improve sustainable food systems in the country while international organizations are already implementing various projects on SDGs, food provision and sustainable agriculture in Kazakhstan. However, many of the initiatives are fragmented with short-lived duration and limited impact.
In this regard, we will explore the drivers and pressures of land use and foods systems in Kazakhstan in cooperation with existing collaborations among national institutes and international organizations.
Water Security with focus on Caspian Sea (SDG 6, 14, 17)
Different approaches have dealt with the transboundary context of freshwater systems in Kazakhstan to identify water security priorities at the national level. Focus has been given to the Caspian Sea and the Ural river which is the third largest river in Europe and the major contributor of surface water to the Caspian Sea.
The large-scale development of oil and gas fields along with the intensification of agriculture and fisheries have degraded the Ural river basin and the Caspian Sea which hosts the largest reserves of sturgeon species. Since 1992, Kazakhstan has cooperated with Russia on transboundary water management of the Ural-Caspian basin and implementation of sustainable use practices. However, limited progress has been identified in terms of policy implementation while the research on water security and environmental aspects needs some improvement.
We aim to introduce research initiatives in the region in partnership with the Sustainable Blue Growth Initiative taken by SDSN Europe and SDSN Black Sea and reinforce research on water security in Caspian region.
Sustainable Development Education in the Tertiary Sector (SDG 4, 10)
Universities and other higher education institutions have a critical role in achieving the SDGs through their research, learning and teaching, campus operations, and leadership. Some universities in Kazakhstan are already working towards achieving SDGs and incorporating sustainability science into their curriculums. Individual elements may be covered in different (university) schools and institutes; nevertheless, there are no integrated programs and frameworks to address the major challenges of our era.
We focus on the incorporation of sustainable development science into the curricula of the universities in the country and on the progress made towards the embedding of SDGs in tertiary education.
Gender and Rural-Urban Inequalities (SDG 1, 5, 10, 11)
There are noticeable gender inequalities in Kazakhstan that become more distinct in rural areas. Also, the contribution of women to the labor market is underestimated by affecting the attainment of SDGs related with gender and socio-economic inequalities. There is a need to better monitor and evaluate the role of women on sustainable economic development by reflecting their contribution on national statistics and other indexes.
SDSN NU is set out to work on the capacity building of gender and SDG aspects. The contacts have already been made with the Society of Women Engineers Students’ Chapter (SWE SC), the Gender Quality student association and the researchers from other universities, who specialize in gender issues. The common efforts will be made to promote gender equality in education, labor market and professional aspects.
Youth and Student Initiatives on Sustainable Development (SDG 5, 16, 17)
Raising interest among students and youth in the field of sustainable development and SDGs is a high priority for the future generation. SDSN Youth initiative will help to gather and mobilize active students and younger generation on sustainability initiatives in the country. We have already come in contact with several student associations in Kazakh universities. SDSN NU will further enhance the cooperation with the student and youth associations by encouraging other groups to join network’s activities. We will encourage active student associations in Kazakhstan to join forces and to perform common projects related to sustainability and SDGs topics.