National parks are a bargaining chip!

3.park+On June 2, 2023, a draft law “On amendments and additions to certain legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on forestry and specially protected natural areas” was submitted for consideration by the Mazhilis of the Parliament. The deputies of the Senate of the Parliament initiated it.[1]

“”The draft law under consideration was developed in order to further improve legislation in the field of forestry and specially protected natural areas and to eliminate gaps in legal regulation,” said Baurzhan Smagulov, deputy of the Mazhilis of the Parliament, during the meeting.

He noted that the draft law is aimed at regulating the issue of transferring lands of specially protected natural areas for the construction of water facilities and structures for protection against floods, landslides, and snow avalanches. In addition, to solve the problems of forest settlements, including their entire infrastructure, which were erroneously included in the composition of specially protected natural areas when they were created.”[2]

What can be answered? Laws can be improved to infinity! But how can mere mortals fulfil them when the speed of their “improvement” will soon equal the speed of sound? Since the adoption of the law “On Specially Protected Natural Territories” in 2006, amendments and additions have been made 29 times! The latest changes are already the third one this year!

If ordinary mortals are perplexed, then uncommon Akimat[3] mortals simply manipulate the laws. They wanted to transfer the Baum grove from the category of specially protected natural areas (SPNA) of “republican significance” to the category of “local significance,” they transferred it. When the issue was resolved, the law was “brought back.” It occurred to them to withdraw the lands of the Kok-Zhailau tract from the Ile-Alatau National Park to the lands of the reserve, they did. Then the lands were returned and the law was corrected. In a word, our law—as we want, so we change it!

It seems that our legislators in this situation are acting according to the traditional scheme. An order has been received, so it must be fulfilled. Not everything else matters.

The authors of the draft law, apparently, do not have a clear idea about the role of specially protected natural areas that they play in the conservation of water resources, in mitigation – reducing climate change, in achieving carbon neutrality, in preserving biological diversity… This is not surprising. In Kazakhstan, there is no environmental policy adopted by the parliament, and specially protected natural areas do not have the legal status of strategic objects!

“A strategic object is property that is of socio-economic importance for the sustainable development of Kazakhstani society, the possession and (or) use and (or) disposal of which will affect the state of national security of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”[4] For example, main railway networks, pipelines, communication lines; oil refineries; energy-producing facilities with a capacity of at least 50 megawatts; international airports; nuclear facilities; objects of the space industry; water facilities (thank God, even though they “can be classified” as strategic facilities!) and so on. Moreover, please tell me, how fertile soils, forests, glaciers, rivers and lakes, protected area ecosystems have to do with sustainable development and strategic objects? Of course, none!

In the “Strategy for achieving carbon neutrality of the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2060,” approved by the Decree of the President of February 2, 2023, protected areas are not mentioned at all. Only a few words are said about the function of forests, which are capable of accumulating carbon.

The statement of the authors of the draft law that the proposed norms will “contribute to the fulfilment of Kazakhstan’s obligations in the transition to carbon neutrality” sounds unconvincing. The cost and benefits of environmental services provided by protected areas are not taken into account. For example, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature: “At least 15% of the world’s carbon reserves are located within specially protected natural areas.” In Switzerland, “17% of forests prevent avalanches—a service valued annually between 2 and 3.5 billion US dollars in monetary terms.”[5]

The European Parliament is considering a bill on the restoration of nature. One of its goals is to restore nature on land and in sea areas. “These measures should cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and ultimately all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.” Every 1 euro invested into nature restoration adds €8 to €38 in benefits.[6]

We are offered to transfer the lands of specially protected natural areas into reserve lands! What does the term “specially protected area” mean in this case?

The project does not take into account the international environmental obligations assumed by Kazakhstan in accordance with the Conventions on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Heritage Convention. That is why the authors propose to allow the withdrawal of land from any protected areas, regardless of whether they are subject to the norms of international conventions or not.

Finally, will the proposed changes and additions increase corruption risks? Especially in the construction of protective structures against mudflows, avalanches and landslides.

For example, in a number of canyons of the Ile-Alatau National Park, such structures were built after the illegal placement of cottages, resorts and other alleged objects of tourist infrastructure in order to ensure their protection. Gross violations of the law on protected areas were committed. Everyone is well aware of the story of the plans to build a ski resort in the Kok-Zhailau valley. The damage caused to the ecosystems of the national park and the state budget has not yet been compensated. The land of the valley was returned to the national park only in 2022. A little more than a year passed, and again officials started talking about seizures and transfers.

In May 2023, the Anti-Corruption Service for the Almaty Region completed an investigation against the leaders of the State Institution “Kazselezashchita.”[7]. “They were charged with taking large and especially large bribes totalling 396 million tenge from entrepreneurs for signing acts of work performed and general patronage.”[8] Where is the guarantee that such “patronage” will not flourish even more luxuriantly after the adoption of changes and additions?

What to do in the event of a real absence of alternative options for locating economic facilities? Use the best world experience. In a number of countries, long-term or perpetual leases are used. It allows not withdrawing land from the protected areas, but at the same time obliges companies to minimize damage to ecosystems during the construction of economic facilities. If their use is terminated, the lease agreements are terminated and the facilities are dismantled. The legal status of lands remains the same—lands of specially protected natural areas.

The authors of the draft law, apparently, are not familiar with the “Rules for the development of projects of natural-scientific and feasibility studies on the creation or expansion of specially protected natural areas, as well as adjustments to the feasibility study.”[9] They describe measures for the engineering protection of protected areas from hazardous geological processes that can be carried out without changing the legal status of the land! 

And will you not be mistaken, gentlemen, in proposing such changes and additions to laws?

National parks have become a bargaining chip in the mercantile games of business and officials. Manipulations with the lands of specially protected natural areas that have been incessant for many years are one of the most serious factors destabilizing the ecological situation in the country and violating the rights of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment that is favourable for his health and well-being. 

© Green Salvation Ecological Society, 2023.


[1] Draft Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On amendments and additions to certain legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on forestry and specially protected natural areas” (Initiated by deputies), June 2, 2023:

[2] The Majilis began consideration of the draft law on forestry issues, June 21, 2023:

[3] Akimat local executive authority.

[4] Civil Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (General Part) (with amendments and additions as of July 1, 2023), article 193-1, paragraphs 1 and 2.

[5] Protected areas help people cope with climate change:

[6] Nature restoration law:

[7] The state institution “Kazselezashchita” is an enterprise that solves the problem of preventing mudflows and landslides, and eliminating their consequences.

[8] Antikor completed the investigation into the case of “Kazselezashchita,” May 25, 2023:

[9] Acting order Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated September 1, 2010 No. 558 “On approval of the Rules for the development of projects of natural scientific and feasibility studies on the creation or expansion of specially protected natural areas, as well as adjustments to the feasibility study” (with changes and additions as of December 20, 2022), paragraphs 25, 26 and 36.