July 2023 was the hottest month in the entire history of meteorological observations on Earth. Thousands of tourists in Greece tried to escape from wildfires caused by the abnormal heat. Residents of the southwest United States suffered from the scorching heat as well. In northwest China, the temperature exceeded 52°C, breaking national records.
The natural phenomenon El Niño became more active; it is linked to the warming of waters in the tropical part of the Pacific Ocean, posing a threat of new natural disasters in 2024.
In November 2023, COP28, the annual UN-led Climate Conference, will commence in Dubai, UAE, to discuss strategies aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C by mid-century.
Decarbonization, pursued by industrialized countries that are transitioning to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, is one such strategy. Another method to address climate change involves nature-based solutions, a vital complement to not only decarbonization but also the restoration of natural ecosystems vital for human existence.
Kazakhstan has been taking measures to achieve decarbonization while also incorporating nature-based solutions. Kazakhstan has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 15% by 2030. To accomplish this, the country, which has historically been dependent on fossil fuels, is increasing its share of renewable energy. Kazakhstan’s largest industrial enterprises, including ArcelorMittal Temirtau, KazMunayGas, and KazZinc (a Glencore subsidiary), are implementing emission reduction programmes.
Furthermore, the Kazakh government is implementing a programme to plant 2 billion trees by the end of 2025. This initiative aims to improve the country’s environmental situation by enhancing air quality and combating desertification.
Another practical nature-based solution developed by the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute (SKRI) at Narxoz University is the establishment of a vegetative barrier to capture harmful airborne particles in the vicinity of urban road systems and mining enterprises, which are among the primary sources of air pollution. The Institute calls this technology “phytocapture”.
Why is this significant? According to a United Nations assessment, air pollution affects 99% of the global population and results in 6.7 million premature deaths annually. With every breath, people inhale minuscule particles that can harm their lungs and lead to cardiovascular issues. The most perilous of these particles are fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5), containing various pollutants ranging from industrial dust to sulphates.
The SKRI team has already incorporated its phytocapture technology at the mining site of Altynalmas, a Kazakhstan-based gold producer. The Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute is one of the pioneers when it comes to using artificial intelligence to determine the best ways to reduce the level of toxic pollution in urban areas and industrial sites in an effort to improve human health. Using EMVI-Met software and a high-performance mainframe computer, the SKRI team conducts 3D modelling of specific designs of vegetation around urban road systems and mine tailings dumps in order to reduce dust pollution as much as possible and thus improve human health. Our modelling has scientifically proven that such designs can reduce dust pollution by as much as 40% and harmful gases like ozone by as much as 70%, thereby improving air quality.
One specific example is our work at the Aksu mine. The SKRI team planted rows of silverberry shrubs in the vicinity of the mine tailings dumps. These shrubs can reach heights of up to 1.5 metres and are effective at capturing larger dust particles. At a slightly greater distance, rows of maples and elms have been planted: these tall trees with dense foliage are adept at trapping fine dust particles carried by the wind. Currently, we are implementing a similar project at a mining site belonging to RG Gold, another Kazakhstan-based gold producer that has invested in nature-based solutions research as part of its ESG strategy.
In the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, one of five regional commissions within the UN, which brings together 56 countries) regional conference on the Convention on Mine Tailing Safety and Industrial Accidents, the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute’s nature-based solutions were presented as best practices for mine tailings safety and the prevention of industrial accidents.
Based on industry demand, the SKRI is expanding their portfolio of work in this sector to use nature-based solutions to combat water and soil pollution caused by mining waste.
There are two primary methods for the prevention and mitigation of wastewater deriving from mining operations. One involves planting trees in a unique manner, within “wells” made of impermeable material, allowing the root system to absorb pollutants from deep groundwater layers in the soil. The other method is the placement of special mats made of biochar and peat on the bottom of channels or streams to absorb pollutants. In collaboration with the Netherlands-based company Tauw Engineering, we are conducting tests of these technologies in Kazakhstan, as well as at a tailings dump belonging to the rare-earth mine Ak-Tuz in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
In addition to conducting scientific research, the SKRI’s mission also includes sharing best practices and exchanging knowledge with experts and industry leaders. All stakeholders are invited to take part in the online international conference ‘Global Solutions to Mine Industry Waste Water: From Research to Practice’, which will take place on 2 November, from 14:00 to 17:00, in Almaty (GMT+6). Click here to register.
Dr. Brendan Duprey is Director the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute, Narxoz University