Medvedev promised to cut emissions – or did he?

Tuesday, 23. June 2009     0 comment(s)
Anna Korppoo
Researcher - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme
President Medvedev announced in a television interview on Friday last week that Russia would be willing to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15% by 2020 ‘based on the current situation’. Even though he, further, compares this effort to a total reduction of 30 billion tons during 1990-2020, the President avoided explicitly stating a base year. The Kremlin spokesman Andrey Dvorkovitsh later confirmed 1990 as the comparison year in question.

The target is weak compared to the expected efforts ahead of other Annex I countries. Russia remained 34% below 1990 level in 2007, and the economic downturn has further cut emissions since. Hence, a 10-15% cut of 1990 level would leave Russia plenty of room to increase its emissions as the difference between this target and the 2007 emissions is 19-24 percentage points. Indeed, Medvedev referred to ‘not depriving ourselves from development opportunities’. Russia has already been criticized by various analysts for suggesting such a weak target.

Had the base year been ‘the current situation’, for instance 2007 emissions, Medvedev’s announcement would have led to a more serious contribution to the global effort. A 10-15% reduction to 2007 levels would mean a 44-49% of the 1990 level. The Russian modelling work illustrates that maintaining the reduction of 30% of the 1990 level until 2020 should not be too challenging, and that also further cuts are well within reach. And then there is the potential buffer of the Russian Kyoto surplus if it can be transferred under the next regime as well as the Russian forest sinks.

But it is also useful to discuss what constitutes a ‘weak’ target as the announcements of other Annex I Parties cannot be considered as ambitious either. It is important to note that compared to the emission trends of other countries, for instance, the US and Japan, the Russian emission trends can be considered as more favourable. Regardless of the differences of effort levels (the Russian emission reductions have been chiefly generated by the 1990s economic recession), this explains why many Russian commentators feel that Russia has done significantly better under the Kyoto Protocol than most other industrialised countries with targets. Also the pure comparison of numbers sheds a different light on the Russian offer: 10-15% cut seems more ambitious than the 8% emission reduction commitment from Japan or return to the 1990 level by the US.

Given the marginality of the climate issue in Russian politics, it is interesting that Medvedev announced a number – any number – as early as this. It provides a good starting point for further negotiations. But at the same time it is important to notice that many Russian commentators do not consider Russian participation crucial for the success in Copenhagen as the US and China are the obvious key actors. Leaving the issue of base year somewhat unclear would be typical for the Russian negotiation tactic given the history of unclear positions and last-minute interventions.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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