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Research Report // Water-Agriculture-Energy Nexus through the Lens of Climate Change

By Atabek Umirbekov, Almaz Akhmetov, Zafar Gafurov. This study examines the climate vulnerabilities of the water, agriculture, and energy sectors in the Central Asian provinces. Using an index-based approach, the study quantifies and juxtaposes major climate risks, corresponding socioeconomic sensitivities, and adaptive capacities for the water resources and agriculture sectors in the provinces. For the energy sector, the study examines long-term electricity security in light of rising demand and the compelling need to reduce associated GHG emissions.

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Executive Summary

This study examines the climate vulnerabilities of Central Asia's water, agriculture, and energy sectors at province level, using an index-based approach that quantifies their exposure, sensitivities, and adaptive capacities. As a climate exposure metric for the water and agriculture sectors the study uses projections of river discharge and agricultural productivity under RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5, which are viewed here as 'optimistic' and 'pessimistic' climate scenarios respectively. The sensitivity indicators reflect the degree to which an affected resource is integrated into the economic activity of a province. The energy sector assessment takes into account the challenges associated with meeting projected increases in electricity demand, as well as a global imperative to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. As a universal barometer for measuring adaptive capacity for all three sectors across the provinces, the study uses proxies of their economic and institutional performances.

The findings suggest that climate change will likely impact water resources in Central Asia, with varying trends across the provinces. The projections indicate that river discharge may decline in the southern river basins of the region, while it may increase in the northern river basins of the region. During the vegetation season, when water is most needed for irrigation in the southern half, river flow shifts may be more dramatic under both climatic scenarios.

Central Asia's strong dependence on water resources is one of the key reasons for its high sensitivity to climate change. This dependence stems from low water productivity, particularly in the southern regions. Transboundary river systems bind downstream countries to the streamflow of upstream countries. Most parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan already face water stress, thus any further gap between water availability and demand would exacerbate water scarcity.

The countries should prioritize increasing water use efficiency across the sectors as a means of reducing their sensitivity to the adverse impacts of climate change. This is especially relevant for agriculture, which is by far the largest water consumer. Given the current high level of economic reliance on water resources, promoting alternative, less water-intensive sectors of the economy could be a promising additional adaptation approach. Apart from being a general requirement in the development context, this imperative would also strengthen the structural resilience of local economies to anticipated water stress.

Future variations in water resource availability may have far-reaching effects on other sectors, with agriculture being the main recipient of the respective risks. Climate change will likely have heterogenous impacts on major crops grown in the region, with some crops seeing reduced yields and others may have the potential for an increase in productivity. Nevertheless, even the potential benefits for some of those crop types would be largely inaccessible in the southern part of the region: crop productivity here will be constrained by the projected decline in water for irrigation.

Overall, in many provinces the climate impacts will be magnified by the relatively higher importance of agriculture in the local economy, in terms of share of population engaged and contribution of the sector to regional GDP. Diversification of the economy and the consequent decline in the sector's relative socioeconomic importance may become other important adaptation strategies on a macro scale.


August 2022


CAREC Institute; Regional Climate Vulnerability in CAREC and Perspectives for Regional Cooperation, Phase 2


Water-Agriculture-Energy Nexus through the Lens of Climate Change

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