Russia's climate policy fails to raise hopes

Anna Korppoo – intervju


Russia’s new climate doctrine hints at Moscow’s growing willingness to engage with the international community in fighting climate change, but EU observers are not pinning their hopes on ambitious commitments from their Eastern neighbour to aid the passage of a post-Kyoto climate treaty.

Last month, the Russian government endorsed a draft climate plan, ending the long silence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government. Until now, Russia’s official line on climate change has centred on arguments against halting Russia’s economic growth.

Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev said the document predicted both how global warming would impact upon Russia and how the government’s climate policies should facilitate adaptation when he presented the new plan to the Cabinet on 23 April.

Trutnev stressed that climate mitigation policies could in fact benefit the Russian economy. “The economy will develop in different climatic conditions in the future. That’s why climate changes need to be taken into account,” he told a press conference, according to the Moscow Times.

The policy paper calls for structural changes to the country’s economy to adapt to new extreme weather conditions and help mitigate climate change.

Incentives for sustainable use of natural resources and a shift to energy-efficient technologies and renewable sources are among these new priorities, according to environmental organisation Bellona. Moreover, Trutnev said that fines for air pollution could increase as much as twenty-fold, the Moscow Times wrote.

Following Cabinet discussions, Prime Minister Putin called for a domestic climate action plan which would focus on resource and energy efficiency. He went on to stress that the problem needed to be solved at international level, and Russia would “take a responsible approach to its domestic policies and measures,” according to Anna Korppoo, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA).

Adaptation a priority

The emergence of the Russian plan was interpreted as an encouraging sign that the country might be ready to take action to cut emissions. At present, climate change maintains a low profile in public discussions and people are generally unaware of its impacts.

“In the past, many good initiatives have got caught in the heavy Russian bureaucracy and been deterred by the lack of attention at the highest political level. In this rare case, with the issue having attracted the attention of Prime Minister Putin, new developments could be triggered in the Russian debate if other G8 countries, especially the US, as well as the international media, recognise these positive signs from Russia,” Korppoo said.

Nevertheless, environmental NGOs are concerned that the Kremlin’s plan focuses on adaptation rather than efforts to reduce emissions.

“The document is by and large taken up by how Russia should adapt to climate change, not the fight against climate change that the rest of the world is occupied with,” said Kristin Jørgensen, the leader of Bellona’s Russia group.

A plan without CO2 reduction targets

The paper has been kept under a veil of secrecy throughout its drafting and is yet to be made public. Moreover, it was drawn up without consulting any environmental or civil society organisations.

As such, the climate plan does not give away much of what Russia might offer in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions in Copenhagen, where a post-Kyoto climate deal is set to be agreed in December. It does not suggest any targets, nor does it commit to any concrete obligations or deadlines.

“They haven’t adopted any firm position. They’ve only got some conceptual ideas down, so they are still keeping their cards close to their chest,” said Fraser Cameron, director of the EU-Russia Centre.

Little expectation

The EU will hold talks with Russia at the end of the week (21-22 May), and international climate negotiations will feature high on the agenda. But Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s EU ambassador in Brussels, told EurActiv that he did not expect any tangible results from the EU-Russia summit.

“So far we haven’t noticed a great deal of international consensus emerging, beyond the overall general recognition that something needs to be done,” Chizhov said. The EU is currently the only region with a firm commitment to a 20% emissions reduction by 2020, but different targets are currently being discussed in many parts of the world. 

Russia might, however, be reluctant to adopt a target as it views emissions increases as a natural part of economic growth, argued a new report published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on 4 May. According to the research institute, Russia could seek to reclassify itself as an emerging economy under the new climate regime in order to secure its government’s priority objectives.

Russia might nevertheless agree to a reduction target if it is allowed to use surplus allowances from the 1990s when its economy plummeted, bringing emissions down, FIIA said.

Stefan Singer, WWF director of global energy policy, was more pessimistic. He said he is worried about last-minute demands from Russia at the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

“Experience tells us that Russia always comes in at the eleventh hour with some kind of ridiculous demand,” he told EurActiv in a recent interview (EurActiv 07/04/09). “We had this a couple of times – in Kyoto, in Montreal, in India – always. And not just on climate, on all issues, because Russia has an understanding of the UN as a self-service shop: everyone goes in and picks what he or she wants.”

“Unfortunately nobody takes Russia too seriously. No one knows what is going on in Russia, because it is a big black box,” he lamented.
Last month, the Russian government endorsed a draft climate plan, ending the long silence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government. Until now, Russia’s official line on climate change has centred on arguments against halting Russia’s economic growth.

Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev said the document predicted both how global warming would impact upon Russia and how the government’s climate policies should facilitate adaptation when he presented the new plan to the Cabinet on 23 April.

Trutnev stressed that climate mitigation policies could in fact benefit the Russian economy. “The economy will develop in different climatic conditions in the future. That’s why climate changes need to be taken into account,” he told a press conference, according to the Moscow Times.

The policy paper calls for structural changes to the country’s economy to adapt to new extreme weather conditions and help mitigate climate change.

Incentives for sustainable use of natural resources and a shift to energy-efficient technologies and renewable sources are among these new priorities, according to environmental organisation Bellona. Moreover, Trutnev said that fines for air pollution could increase as much as twenty-fold, the Moscow Times wrote.

Following Cabinet discussions, Prime Minister Putin called for a domestic climate action plan which would focus on resource and energy efficiency. He went on to stress that the problem needed to be solved at international level, and Russia would “take a responsible approach to its domestic policies and measures,” according to Anna Korppoo, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA).

Adaptation a priority

The emergence of the Russian plan was interpreted as an encouraging sign that the country might be ready to take action to cut emissions. At present, climate change maintains a low profile in public discussions and people are generally unaware of its impacts.

“In the past, many good initiatives have got caught in the heavy Russian bureaucracy and been deterred by the lack of attention at the highest political level. In this rare case, with the issue having attracted the attention of Prime Minister Putin, new developments could be triggered in the Russian debate if other G8 countries, especially the US, as well as the international media, recognise these positive signs from Russia,” Korppoo said.

Nevertheless, environmental NGOs are concerned that the Kremlin’s plan focuses on adaptation rather than efforts to reduce emissions.

“The document is by and large taken up by how Russia should adapt to climate change, not the fight against climate change that the rest of the world is occupied with,” said Kristin Jørgensen, the leader of Bellona’s Russia group.

A plan without CO2 reduction targets

The paper has been kept under a veil of secrecy throughout its drafting and is yet to be made public. Moreover, it was drawn up without consulting any environmental or civil society organisations.

As such, the climate plan does not give away much of what Russia might offer in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions in Copenhagen, where a post-Kyoto climate deal is set to be agreed in December. It does not suggest any targets, nor does it commit to any concrete obligations or deadlines.

“They haven’t adopted any firm position. They’ve only got some conceptual ideas down, so they are still keeping their cards close to their chest,” said Fraser Cameron, director of the EU-Russia Centre.

Little expectation

The EU will hold talks with Russia at the end of the week (21-22 May), and international climate negotiations will feature high on the agenda. But Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s EU ambassador in Brussels, told EurActiv that he did not expect any tangible results from the EU-Russia summit.

“So far we haven’t noticed a great deal of international consensus emerging, beyond the overall general recognition that something needs to be done,” Chizhov said. The EU is currently the only region with a firm commitment to a 20% emissions reduction by 2020, but different targets are currently being discussed in many parts of the world. 

Russia might, however, be reluctant to adopt a target as it views emissions increases as a natural part of economic growth, argued a new report published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on 4 May. According to the research institute, Russia could seek to reclassify itself as an emerging economy under the new climate regime in order to secure its government’s priority objectives.

Russia might nevertheless agree to a reduction target if it is allowed to use surplus allowances from the 1990s when its economy plummeted, bringing emissions down, FIIA said.

Stefan Singer, WWF director of global energy policy, was more pessimistic. He said he is worried about last-minute demands from Russia at the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

“Experience tells us that Russia always comes in at the eleventh hour with some kind of ridiculous demand,” he told EurActiv in a recent interview (EurActiv 07/04/09). “We had this a couple of times – in Kyoto, in Montreal, in India – always. And not just on climate, on all issues, because Russia has an understanding of the UN as a self-service shop: everyone goes in and picks what he or she wants.”

“Unfortunately nobody takes Russia too seriously. No one knows what is going on in Russia, because it is a big black box,” he lamented.