They don’t get a lot of attention on the world stage, yet the nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan – which are home to 140 million people and collectively known as the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) – could potentially use their natural resources to become major players when it comes to powering the world.
Specifically, there is the opportunity for these countries to move beyond basic fossil fuel mining and exporting, and instead invest in and encourage the region-wide growth of various renewable energy industries. Coal, oil and gas are currently the major energy industries across most of the EECCA.
‘Isolation and rigid thinking are not in the region’s long-term best interest,’ says Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), whose recent report concluded these findings. ‘The key ingredients for a sustainable energy sector in all of these countries are co-operation and evidence-based strategic planning.’
The report highlights how political and economic instability since these various countries achieved independence has prevented the implementation of any kind of long-term planning or building of cross-border infrastructure within the region. Amongst it’s recommendations is that oil and gas producing countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan could reform their sectors to create more sustainable forms of energy, enhancing energy security across Europe and Asia in the process.
This issue of energy security highlights the role that the physical locations of borders and nations play in terms of moving energy supply across the world.
Specifically when it comes to keeping the lights on in Europe, Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Director for Energy Policy at the European Directorate-General for Energy, stresses how vital these connections between bordering nations are. ‘The EU’s energy security increasingly depends on the production in and safe transit of energy goods through our neighbouring countries,’ she says. ‘At the same time, our neighbours increasingly depend on the European energy market for their own energy security.'
The report makes several recommendations regarding easing the flow of investment and capital into and out of the EECCA, as well as enhancing the rule of law across the countries. However, it also strongly advocates a significant transition towards renewable energy production, of the type led by the success of hydropower in Tajikistan, with over 60 per cent on its total primary energy supply coming from renewable energy sources.
The report illustrates how Kyrgyzstan and Georgia also have the resources to create a large hydropower energy sector like Tajikistan, while initial explorations into renewable resources in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan provide ‘promising forecasts’.
Although it is likely that the region will continue to rely on its coal, oil and gas exports in the short-term, the report also highlights how many of the EECCA countries are progressing towards significant targets regarding energy efficiency. Kazakhstan aims for 50 per cent renewable energy supply by 2050, while Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine all have energy efficiency and renewable targets for 2020. However, the large-scale growth of the renewable sector across the region has been hampered by problems such as ‘inaccurate accounting’, and the ‘ageing’ existing energy infrastructure.
Furthermore, it also suggests broadening public awareness of the ‘tangible, long-term benefits’ of growing the renewable energy sector within the region. No one is holding their breath, but this report certainly suggests that the EECCA’s current unsustainable role as primary exporter of many of the world’s fuels and minerals may be able to come to an end sooner than many would have anticipated.