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 incorporated environmental, social, and governance indicators in their sustainability reports, by also getting evaluated by international accredited rating agencies on its climate action and sustainability performance. Many companies also focus on industrial safety, occupational safety and environmental protection by abiding to the improvement of labor conditions. 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. The knowledge gained from the field area of the Good Governance of Extractive and Land Resources in SDSN will be explored while communication with the relevant coordination team will be conducted.
We intent to utilize the Youth SDSN for attracting student associations and raise their interest in the field of CSR and sustainability approaches in Kazakhstan. A communication has been already made with some student associations from Kazakh universities like the Enactus student club and the Green Technologies & Innovations Youth Club. Within the Youth SDSN, we also aim to contribute to better inclusion and equal treatment of women in labor market, including corporate sector. Common initiatives will be performed with student associations working on gender equality aspects in corporate sector. The longer-term of objective of SDSN Youth in this priority is to prepare young specialists, who will drive the incorporation of the SDGs and sustainability principles into corporate sector in the future.
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 driven Kazakhstan to become a net importer of agricultural products. 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. An initiative has been already taken by Nazarbayev University in May 2021 in cooperation with FAO Office in Kazakhstan for the customization of SDGs on sustainable food systems in accordance with the national needs by also assessing the effectiveness of different pilot programs on SDGs and agricultural sector in Kazakhstan.
Within the collaboration of FAO Office in Kazakhstan, young specialists will be attracted for internship positions. Indicatively, 2 interns have been recruited by FAO for the period November 2021- January 2022 to support SDSN activities on land use in Kazakhstan. This initiative will contribute to the development and preparation of young specialists in the spheres of sustainable food production and sustainable land use in the country and the wider region.
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. 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 by increasing protected areas, improving conservation management plans, and encouraging environmental conservation courses in tertiary education.
There is also intention to engage SDSN Youth in this priority, as there are a number of students’ associations which focus on topics of environmental conservation and biodiversity protection.
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, not much progress has been identified in terms of policy implementation while the research on water security and environmental aspects is relatively poor.
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.
To this aim, we have already initiated the development of a Special Issue on Sustainability and Environmental Challenges in Caspian Sea that will be published in the high impact factor research journal International Journal of Water Resources Development. The Special Issue intends to bring forward the major challenges currently presented in the Caspian Sea in terms of hydrology, natural environmental, energy and transportation, geopolitics, by also devoting a study on the attainment of SDGs in the region. The editorial team is composed by professors from Nazazarbayev and Oulu universities, and there is strong intend to attract potential authors from relevant SDSN members. We also intend to attract students through the SDSN Youth initiative to work on data collection and analysis by further engaging them on the environmental challenges in Caspian Sea and the transboundary aspects.
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. Still, there is a significant lack of educational material and courses on undergraduate and postgraduate level. 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. Also, the leadership and management board in universities is not fully open towards sustainable and innovative approaches and requires policy-related and structural changes.
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. Preparations have been made to customize the “Accelerating Education for the SDGs in Universities: A guide for universities, colleges, and tertiary and higher education institutions” by SDSN to the needs of Kazakh universities so that they can develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and leadership initiatives towards sustainable development approaches and policies. Also, an evaluation framework has been prepared by Nazarbayev University to track the progress of Kazakh universities and institutions based on the SDSN guidelines. The assessment is divided into several sections that measure educational institutions’ effectiveness in the adoption of educational, research and policy related sustainability initiatives. The goal is to ensure mainstreaming the SDGs in tertiary education over time in Kazakhstan.
There is also an intention to incorporate SDSN Youth initiative in this priority, by encouraging students’ association to suggest projects that could improve the alignment of SDGs in the tertiary education of Kazakhstan. In this regard, a network has been already established with some student associations in Kazakhstani universities.
Also, within this priority, there is intention to encourage gender equality in education. There is already cooperation with the Consortium of Gender Scholars (GenCon) based at Nazarbayev University which aims to bring together and support gender scholars in Kazakhstan. The cooperation with GenCon will be conducted in the areas of SDGs and gender challenges in the country by paying more attention to the rural context.