ASTANA Oil-rich Kazakhstan will spend 1 percent of annual output every year until 2050 to increase power generation from greener sources, a senior official said, cutting its dependence on coal far faster than some of the world's big polluters.
The Central Asian country, the world's ninth largest by area but populated by just 17 million people, holds about 3 percent of the global recoverable oil reserves. However, its fast, oil-propelled growth hinges on high oil prices.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former steelworker who has ruled for more than two decades, has signed off on a state program on developing sources of renewable energy.
"According to our estimates, total investments - state and private - needed to implement this program will amount annually to an average of $3.2 billion in the period until 2050, or roughly 1 percent of GDP," Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Kapparov told a news briefing on Wednesday.
"This is not such a high price for the clean air, for the health of our children and the preservation of ecological systems, as well as for our economy's resilience to external shocks which assume more threatening proportions each year."
Coal-fired power stations, which heavily pollute the atmosphere, currently account for around 80 percent of Kazakhstan's electricity generation.
Kapparov said, provided domestic natural gas prices were high, Kazakhstan's "energy basket" by 2030 would be made up of 11 percent generated by wind and the sun, 8 percent by nuclear power, 10 percent by hydro power, 21 percent by gas and 49 percent by coal.
Emerging economies, still industrializing and growing far faster economically than the developed world, are generally cutting the extent to which they depend on more carbon intensive forms of power generation far slower than that.
China, the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, will still be generating most of its power by burning coal in 2050.
Kazakhstan's GDP expanded by 5 percent and stood at $200 billion in 2012. The government forecasts it to grow by 6 percent this year to $227 billion at current exchange rates.
The "green revolution" can add annually up to 3 percent of GDP to Kazakhstan's current economic growth in the period until 2050, Kapparov said, and create up to 600,000 new jobs.
If economic growth in Kazakhstan and its neighbors continues at the present pace, the country will face annual deficit of water resources equal to 14 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2030, he said, adding the government would take "drastic" steps to save water. The economy now consumes 20 bcm of water a year.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Pravin Char)