Aziz Abdukhakimov, the Minister of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change, in an interview with on January 25, explicated the state’s decision to convert some greenhouses and other facilities to coal fuel, which has a negative impact on the air quality.

As mentioned earlier, in February 2023, the presidential decree mandated the conversion of 1,147 greenhouses with an area of 2,466 hectares, 250 cement and brick factories, 2,229 kindergartens, 2,432 schools and 746 hospitals to coal power. This decision came in response to an energy crisis in the country and Tashkent caused by gas shortages.

In January 2024, the Ministry of Ecology reported the emergence of a “gray,” instead of “green,” ring of greenhouses around Tashkent, fueled by coal and polluting the air. Currently, 60% of the country’s greenhouses mainly rely on coal for heating.

Additionally, the growth rate of coal consumption in the economy has exceeded 22% in the past five years. From 6.8 million tons in 2018, the consumption is expected to exceed 8.3 million tons in 2022.

In the “urgent measures” project, the ministry proposed to develop an action plan for the gradual implementation of rigorous requirements and restrictions on the use of coal and fuel oil in economic sectors. correspondent spoke to Ecology Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov about the environmental considerations in the decision on massive switch to coal.

“We remember the hardships we faced back then, people were widely displeased. During the cold weather, we were agreeing on using coal and everything else. The winter this year was not very harsh with a few cold days. For this reason, people tend to forget about this situation and take it easier. In fact, it’s better to sit in the warmth than in the cold,” he shared.

The head of the Ministry of Ecology also reminded that the lack of electricity in social facilities, such as hospitals, where power is essential for equipment operation, can harm the health and lives of citizens.

“Striking balance here is challenging, but my duty as minister of ecology is to advocate for a ban on coal and fuel oil. The final decision, of course, rests with the government. There is also the Ministry of Economy, which opposes us. Since they are more responsible for economic growth, their approach to the issue is different. Each decision is made based on the collision of different perspectives,” he emphasized.

Aziz Abdukhakimov highlighted that the current proposals of the Ministry of Ecology on improving air quality and other measures “are well-received by the population.”

“People's approval and their support empower us. The opinion of the public is considered when the final decision is made. Last year, this decision (to switch to coal) may have been passed because people (were freezing). Now, we are trying to find a balance,” he outlined.

The minister noted the importance of weighing the pros and cons in addressing each issue.

“As an economist, I understand (the necessity) of switching to coal — perhaps there is no other option. Maybe there is still insufficient capacity for alternative energy sources like gas or solar. However, significant projects in solar and wind power generation are being prepared and implemented rapidly. Tomorrow, this will lead to a change in Uzbekistan’s energy balance. It will create conditions for us to reduce reliance on coal and fuel oil,” he stated.

The Minister of Ecology insists that even if coal is used in heating equipment or thermal power plants, they should be equipped with modern cleaning technology.

“Now we require the installation of dust collectors, dust and gas cleaning devices at thermal plants. This incurs costs in the millions of dollars. Of course, tomorrow they will say: ‘If we buy them, we will have to raise the price of electricity supplied to the population.' The Ministry of Economy might make an appeal: ‘Raise our rates.' Everyone has their own challenges, but our mission as the Ministry of Ecology is to preserve ecology and safeguard our nature. From this perspective, we are trying to promote our proposals,” he commented.

Currently, environmentalists are inspecting and analyzing cement plants and greenhouses across the country. Out of the 47 constructed plants, 23 have suspended operations, according to Minister Abdukhakimov. Additionally, a study of 25 cement producers revealed that 90% of them violate environmental regulations. The government is now preparing a decision to impose a ban on the construction of new cement plants, he shared.

“In many cases, one of the causes of environmental damage is the irresponsibility of our inspectors on the ground and, in some cases, corruption. Inspectors visited a location, took measurements, and then we visited and conducted measurements ourselves, revealing completely different figures. What is the issue? The human factor,” the minister expressed his opinion.

To eliminate the human factor, the transition is being made to shift to a system that will automatically measure harmful emissions of all industrial enterprises. The data will be transmitted to the situation center of the Ministry of Ecology.

“We have sent out several warning letters to all enterprises. By the end of 2024 and starting from January 2025, we will increase the fines fivefold and impose substantial fines if enterprises fail to install monitoring systems or automatic monitoring stations that count harmful emissions. Now, they have been given a deadline,” Aziz Abdukhakimov stated.

The head of the ministry acknowledged that such a decision had been made previously, but was not implemented.

“Therefore, in 2023, we conducted a thorough analysis, talked to enterprises and tried to clarify the matters to everyone. Now, the implementation of this decision is strictly monitored. The deadline for enterprises of the first category, causing the most damage to the environment, expires at the end of this year. If monitoring stations with the appropriate equipment are not installed, they will face strict measures, heavy fines, up to work suspension,” he remarked.

For enterprises in the second category, the number of which is much larger, the deadline is set until January 1, 2026.

“During 2025, they must complete this work. If these measures are implemented, I believe the situation will improve not only in Tashkent but throughout the entire country,” Aziz Abdukhakimov reflected.