Turkmenistan picked the lowest possible of hanging fruit at the ongoing COP-28 climate summit in Dubai by announcing it will sign up to the Global Methane Pledge, a voluntary agreement that commits adherents to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
In his speech to the UN Climate Change Conference on December 1, President Serdar Berdymukhamedov made out that this was the natural outcome of his country’s long-standing concerns over dangers posed by emissions of the greenhouse gas.
“As you know, at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow [in 2021], Turkmenistan announced its support for this new Global Methane Pledge initiative and expressed interest in a detailed study of the document and participation in its implementation,” he said.
Turkmen officials must have been so busy poring over the document that they failed to notice that – as one Guardian report framed it – leaks of methane from two field gas fields alone contributed more to global warming in 2022 than all the carbon emissions in the United Kingdom.
What was particularly egregious, according to Kayrros, the monitoring institute that calculated the scale of this problem, was that the situation could have been mitigated with relatively straightforward technical fixes.
“It’s very simple to do, it has no cost for the citizen, and for the producers, the cost is completely marginal,” Kayrros president Antoine Rostand told the Guardian.
In any case, Turkmenistan has joined the party, so thoughts must now turn to implementation. This should notionally be an easy feat for Turkmenistan to accomplish given how delinquent it has been in the recent past. As the official Global Methane Pledge website notes, however, 30 percent “is a global, not a national reduction target.”
The expectation among anybody in the international community paying attention is doubtless that Turkmenistan will need to undertake an especially Stakhanovite effort.
A theoretically more arduous objective is contained in Turkmenistan’s commitment under the terms of the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty adopted in 2015 and ratified by Ashgabat the following year.
Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, outline each countries strategy for pursuing the global aim of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Turkmenistan approved its national strategy its May 2022 but only got around to making a revised version public in January 2023. The document describes Turkmenistan’s objective as reducing “[greenhouse gas] emissions in 2030 under the [business-as-usual] scenario by 20 percent compared to the level of emissions in 2010.”
This sounds ambitious, but the authors of the document, which appears to have been assembled with heavy input from the always-amenable UN Development Program, are weaselly to a fault.
First of all, there is not a great deal of clarity about the raw numbers. What Turkmenistan’s strategy document reveals is that the total amount of greenhouse gases released into the air rose from 48,000 gigagrams measured in CO2 equivalents in 2005 to 66,400 gigagrams in 2010.
No fresher information is available. As the strategy document feebly explains, “unfortunately, the next GHG [greenhouse gases] inventory began only in 2020 … and therefore, it was impossible to provide updated GHG inventory data in full.”
And that 20 percent reduction figure is knowingly misleading, as carefully explained in a rigorous analysis authored by Progres Foundation, a Turkmenistan-focused research outfit based in the United States.
“It is important to note that this target is not referring to a reduction in the annual total greenhouse gas emissions, as the wording might suggest. Instead, the goal is to decrease the GHG intensity of the economy, which means the government aims to increase GDP at a faster rate than greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, there will be a lower CO2 equivalent/manat by 2030,” writes the author of the Progres Foundation report, which is very much worth reading in its entirety.
Sure enough, even Turkmenistan’s climate change strategy does not try to circumvent this fact and admits freely that “by 2030, GHG emissions can reach 135,800 [gigagrams measured in CO2 equivalents]. i.e., they will increase … 2 times compared to 2012.”
There is a methane cloud-sized issue here, though, since Turkmenistan cannot be relied upon to provide proper figures. Its emissions data is collated by the State Statistics Committee, the fantasy factory that annually submits magically round GDP growth figures – the very same figures, as it turns out, that will allow Ashgabat to ignore its climate change obligations.
Despite these shenanigans, Turkmenistan is eager to wrap itself in the cloak of virtue on climate issues. Accordingly, Deputy Vepa Khajiyev used the occasion of the OSCE Ministerial Council held in North Macedonia on December 1 to claim that Ashgabat wants to see the creation of a Regional Climate Technology Center.
What this center would do is anybody’s guess. And it is not as though Turkmenistan has invested much in environmentally sustainable electricity generation, despite its considerable potential for developing wind and solar power.
On the more traditional energy front, representatives of Afghanistan’s self-styled Islamic Emirate were in Ashgabat on December 2 with a new bid to revive the fortunes of the trans-Afghan TAPI natural gas pipeline.
Russian state news agency TASS cited Mohammad Haroon Saidi, the emirate’s trade attaché, as saying that the government in Kabul is hopeful that Afghanistan’s access to interbank financing channels – and frozen funds – can be reinstated. Saidi noted that Afghanistan has a $150 million stake in the TAPI project. Turkmenistan has been supportive of Kabul’s calls for financial sanctions to be eased.
In other evidence that the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan aspires to a return to pre-takeover normality, Saidi said that his government is in talks with Turkmenistan and also Kazakhstan on establishing trading houses for dealing with those two countries.
Amsterdam-based Turkmen.news carried a report on December 1 about the latest cycle of personnel bloodletting behind the scenes. The hero at the center of the drama is Nyyazly Nyyazlyev, a former chief of state chemicals company Turkmenkhimiya, who was apparently arrested in August on embezzlement and corruption charges.
What makes the story particularly compelling is that Nyyazlyev appears to have tried to evade his fate by putting in a call to President Berdymukhamedov’s similarly corrupt cousin, Hajymyrat Rejepov, who is said to have enriched himself through various schemes in the chemicals sector. While Rejepov’s family links mean he will likely avoid incurring too much pain for his sins, other officials who have snuffled at the Turkmenkhimiya trough over the years are reportedly in a state of panic.
Akhal-Teke is a weekly Eurasianet column compiling news and analysis from Turkmenistan.